With all this talk of life on Mars lately, it seems we’ve forgotten about our big white space neighbor, the one who initiated our fascination with space in the first place. I’m okay with letting Mars have the spotlight for now, because in just two years, we could have the first private moon landing.
Teams around the world have been competing in Google’s Lunar XPRIZE for a shot at landing a robotic spacecraft on the Moon (and a pretty generous $30 million paycheck), and now one team is a step closer to launching the first privately built vehicle on the moon.
Moon Express has landed not one, but three launch contracts, with the first two planned to launch for 2017.
But they haven’t won the big prize just yet. They’ll have to successfully land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, navigate 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to Earth.
Moon Express does hold promise, though.
They’ve already claimed over $1.5 million in milestone prizes from Google and NASA after testing its MX-1 lunar lander in terrestrial flights.
For this mission, Moon Express is teaming up with Lockheed Martin-funded satellite company, Rocket Lab, to use its Electron rocket system to launch its MX-1 lunar lander.
The electron rocket uses 3D-printed battery-powered rocket engines, making its design much simpler (and cheaper) than traditional engines. Thanks to these new technologies, we’re creating a new era of affordable access to the moon (and beyond).
This rocket has never actually flown, so two years isn’t a whole lot of time to prepare for takeoff, but even if the launch isn’t successful, private companies are changing the game for space exploration in the making.