Private spaceflight company Moon Expresshas been promising to mine the Moon.
And now, they’ve announced their plan to get started.
The company wants to set up a robotic lunar outpost
on the Moon ’ s South Pole by 2020.
The concept relies on this new fleet of robotic landers
that Moon Express wants to build called
the MX Robotic Explorers.
These spacecraft range in size — from the small MX-1 to the larger MX-9,
all are powered by a new “ eco-friendly engine ”
Moon Express is building, too, called the PECO.
And the vehicles all are flexible in purpose.
They can be used as landers to put payloads on the lunar surface
or used as orbiters to travel around the Moon.
And some are even equipped for sample return.
The MX-9, for instance, can carry the smaller MX-1 to the Moon ’ s surface.
And from there, the MX-1 can lift off again,
bringing resources back to Earth.
And just for reference,
the last time anyone brought something back from the Moon was in 1976.
Bringing back Moon rocks would be super cool — both
for researchers and for those looking
to take their rock collections to a wholenew level.
But Moon Express wants to do more than just excavate lunar rocks.
The company is also interested
水资源 其实是冰资源 也很感兴趣
in the Moon ’ s water supply — well ice supply.
There is a whole bunch of ice at the Moon ’ s poles,
and Moon Express wants to extract that material
and potentially turn it into rocket propellant
that could then be used to fuel spacecraft that are already in space.
Bob Richards: The importance of water on the Moon
is water and its constituents — hydrogen and oxygen — are rocket fuel,
so the Moon becomes like a gas station in the sky.
However, the company has yet to detail
the technology it will use to actually mine the Moon’s resources.
Before any of mining can happen,
Moon Express has to prove it can get
even one spacecraft to the lunar surface.
The company is starting small with its MX-1E lander.
It ’ s the smallest vehicle of the family,
designed to fly on top of an experimental
rocket called the Electron, which is madeby Rocket Lab.
Bob Richards: This little robot [MX-1] isa robot that can fly from low-Earth orbit
all the way to the Moon by itself and land itself on the Moon.
Once on the Moon,
the MX-1E can ignite its engine to “ hop ” across the surface, as
well as send back photos and videos to Earth.
Moon Express plans to fly the lander for the first time
later this year as part of the Google Lunar X Prize,
a competition to send the first privately funded vehicle to the Moon.
If Moon Express is the first to land its lander
before the other contestants, it ’ s poised
to win a $20 million grand prize purse.
Time is running out, though.
The mission has to launch before the end
of the year — the deadline for the competition.
And Moon Express has yet to show any
of the MX-1E lander ’ s hardware.
Richards says they ’ re still doing tests of different components
and putting the vehicle together in Florida.
Also the Electron rocket that ’ s supposed
to carry the lander isn ’ t exactly ready yet.
The Electron has only flown once, during a test flight,
out of New Zealand.
The vehicle made it to space but didn’t
quite make it to orbit.
Rocket Lab says it has figured out why,
but there are still two more test launches of
the Electron before the rocket can carry customers.
If the MX-1E mission is a success,
it paves the way for the next two missions Moon Express wants to do.
It plans to start the lunar outpost in the next few years,
by launching one of its landers to the South Pole
to prospect for water and establish a permanent presence.
Then in 2020, the company hopes to launch its sample return mission.
If it can pull that off,
Moon Express will prove it can both land its vehicles on the
Moon and return them to Earth.
Bob Richards: We ’ re here to try to inspire a whole new generation,
to open up the frontier of the Moon,
and redefine the possible.
And I think we have a great future ahead of us,
collapsing the cost of transportation
from Earth orbit to everywhere else.