To support its long-term goal of mining water and minerals on the Moon, commercial spaceflight company Moon Express has revealed its plans for constructing a robotic base on the lunar south pole.
One of five competitors for the Google Lunar X Prize, a worldwide competition to send the first private robotic mission to the Moon, Moon Express hopes to build its lunar base as early as 2020.
For its first landing, the company plans to use its MX-1E robotic lander, which is capable of landing 66 pounds on the Moon as well as hopping across the lunar surface.
That lander is currently under construction. It will launch on an experimental rocket named Electron made by the company Rocket Lab for the Google X Prize mission.
Over the next few years, Moon Express plans to develop upgraded versions of the MX-1E, which it is calling the MX-2, MX-5, and MX-9.
These landers will be capable of carrying payloads of various sizes and can be used as landers, orbiters, and even deep space probes to other solar system destinations.
They will be powered by an eco-friendly engine known as the PECO and be able to ride on board any rocket.
MX-9 will be capable of carrying an MX-1E lander to the Moon, from which the latter will collect samples and return to Earth.
Based in Florida, Moon Express, which has long expressed a desire to mine the Moon, seeks to place permanent robots there to do the mining. Its vision is to sell materials mined on the Moon for profit.
Once taken from the lunar south pole, water ice could be used to make spacecraft propellant while rocks and minerals could be sold to NASA and other interested parties.
While the company has a long-term vision, hardware for the MX-1E is still under construction, and the Electron rocket has yet to make it into space.
Moon Express has not revealed any details about the technology it will use for lunar mining.
Following the Google X Prize mission, which has been labeled the Lunar Scout Expedition and given regulatory approval by the US government, the company plans to send the MX-2 to the Moon’s south pole to search for water, scout locations for the outpost, and transport science experiments.
Its Harvest Moon mission, which will launch after the MX-2, will return lunar samples to the Earth.