A Florida-based company called Moon Express has revealed its plans to use robots to mine the moon by 2020.
Moon Express was founded in 2010 with the goal of winning Google’s Lunar Xprize, which offers $20 million to the first private company that can land spacecraft on the moon.
Google launched Lunar Xprize in 2007 and set a deadline of December 31, 2017. In addition to landing the spacecraft, the rules state that an accompanying rover must be able to travel a minimum of 500 metres and capture hi-definition videos and images.
To chronicle the journey, Google also teamed up with Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams to create a nine-part web series which details each company’s efforts to get to the moon.
Robert D, Richards, CEO of Moon Express, told The New York Times that Moon Express is on track to win the Xprize and has a launch planned for this year. Although the $20 million would be nice, Richards added that without it Moon Express would be profitable through commercial ventures or in assisting with NASA payloads.
Moon Express has broken its mission into three distinct expeditions.
The first expedition is called “Lunar Scout” and it will involve sending an MX-1E lander to the moon first. This will be followed by a “Lunar Outpost” expedition that send a larger spacecraft that will link up with the MX-1E. The final expedition is called “Harvest Moon” and is slated to take place by 2020. That mission will send even larger spacecraft – the MX9 – equipped with robots capable of mining of the Moon and sending samples back to Earth.
What exactly are they mining for? Moon Express is a little cagey on the details. According to the company’s official website, the moon “has been enriched with vast resources through billions of years of asteroid bombardment”, which doesn’t tell us much about what is actually in there.
Moon Express is also interested in finding water because it not only supports life but is made up of hydrogen and oxygen which can be used as rocket fuel.
But mining the moon also raises some interesting questions about ownership too. As Techly has already explained, no one owns the moon (although several nutcases have claimed to), which makes things a little tricky when you go up there and start taking stuff.
Right now we are taking a “first in, first served” approach to moon ownership. Essentially, if you have the moxie to get there, you can take what you want.
But as the new space race heats up – with major players like Space X and Virgin Galactic all with a horse in the race – questions of moon ownership will undoubtedly resurface.