Moon Express completes funding for Google X-Prize lunar mission


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The competition heats up: Moon Express, one of the five remaining contestants vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize, announced today that it has raised an additional $20 million to complete the necessary funding needed to complete its mission.

The new round brings the total Moon Express has raised to $45 million. Richards said the company is looking to raise an additional $10 million as a “contingency” and to support future missions. “This is not a stunt,” he said. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.”

The company is developing a small lunar lander called the MX-1E. The spacecraft is designed to land on the moon and then “hop” to another landing site, fulfilling the requirement of the Google Lunar X Prize to travel at least 500 meters across the surface after landing. That initial mission will carry scientific and commercial payloads from several customers. Richards said Moon Express is currently focusing on the spacecraft’s key technology, its propulsion system. The company previously tested that propulsion technology in tests at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but Richards said the company is making changes to improve its performance.

That additional performance is needed since the spacecraft will launch on Electron, a small launch vehicle being developed by U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab, which can only take the lander into low Earth orbit. Earlier mission concepts called for launching on a larger vehicle that could place the spacecraft into a geostationary transfer orbit. “We need that extra punch from our own engine in order to get to the moon,” Richards said.

The article provides one more tidbit, this time about Rocket Lab and its Electron rocket:

The company’s current schedule calls for integrating the spacecraft in July, and then shipping it to Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site in October. The launch, scheduled for late this year, will be the seventh or eighth operational flight of the Electron, Richards said, shortly after a NASA mission under a Venture Class Launch Services contract Rocket Lab received in late 2015.

Although Rocket Lab has yet to launch an Electron — its first test flight is scheduled for no earlier than February — Richards believed the company would be ready in time for Moon Express, which faces a deadline of the end of this year to win the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize before the prize expires. [emphasis mine]

In other words, if things go as planned, Rocket Lab will launch Electron in February, and then do about one launch per month before it launches Moon Express. That will be an impressive start for the new rocket company, should they succeed in doing it.

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3 comments

  • I’m not convinced ‘hopping’ fulfills the intent of ‘ travel at least 500 meters across the surface after landing.’ It satisfies the letter, sure, but I have to wonder a bit about folks who take the shortcut.

  • Gealon

    Indeed, if this “Hopper” wins, it will be a technical victory only. The point of the competition is to build a Rover, a machine that can perform in-situ science anywhere along that 500 meter route. Not simply take off again and land 500 meters away, doing no science in the process. While I won’t actively root against Moon Express, I certainly won’t be rooting for a team that’s looking to skirt the rules closely.

  • Edward

    Since Google is not complaining, I do not think that they care as much as some may think. The notion that Moon Express is skirting the rules may be due to the inference from the article that each hop travels 500 meters or so.

    If the hops are shorter or their distance and direction are well controlled, then the hopping rover (Moonhopper?) can perform science at any location scientists desire, thus the spirit as well as the letter of the rules would be satisfied.

    What concerns me, however, is the possibility of the hopper landing badly, after a hop, and being damaged.

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