Moon Express is shooting for the moon with every intention of landing on its crater-covered surface. They don’t intend to stop there, either.
Lunar exploration is only one small step for Moon Express. The company recently announced that it's developling an entire fleet of spacecraft to explore the moon, Mars and whatever lies beyond without the specter of exorbitant costs. CEO Bob Richards wants to make travel to the moon for both scientific and commercial purposes possible without the financial end of it existing in some unreachable galaxy.
"That's where my heart is—solar system exploration on a grand scale that democratizes and completely accelerates our evolution into the solar system through knowledge and discovery, not just a few expensive voyages sponsored by kings and governments, like in history," said Richards. "We need to get everybody going."
A satellite is only the launching point for Moon Express’ far-out vision. They are currently one of five finalists competing for the Google Lunar X Prize (GXLP), meaning they could win $20 million for further research and development if they manage to be the first privately funded company to accomplish soft-landing a robot on the moon, moving it at least 1,640 feet across its pockmarked surface and beaming back hi-res images and video. Because the award will expire if it remains unclaimed by the end of this year, Moon Express plans to have its lander take off with Rocket Lab’s Electron booster, though the launch date is still floating in space.
GXLP is just the first portal of opportunity. Next to launch in 2019 will be a robotic research outpost that will search the lunar south pole for water and other resources that could possibly fuel missions to Mars or a potential space station orbiting the moon. The year 2020 will see the first commercial sample-return mission to the moon and back. MX-1 is the lander that will make these missions and more happen. Moon Express wants to mass-produce and market the MX-1 as a solo lunar explorer and use it as the basis for designing orbiter, lander and deep-space models of the more complex MX-2, MX-5 and MX-9. More advanced spacecraft will increase payloads and rocket engine power that could potentially make missions to the moons of Mars, Venus and beyond more than just the stuff of sci-fi.
"We're not The Moon Express," Richards added. "We're Moon Express, so any moon will do."
While a ticket to the moon is likely to set you back more than even a first-class seat to your next Earthly vacation destination, the company’s estimates show a drastic reduction in costs that may only keep plunging further with new innovations. Moon travel could even become a thing.