- Parabolic Arc
- June 7, 2023
GXLP Likely Extended as Moon Express Signs Launch Contract with Rocket Lab
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct. 1, 2015 (Moon Express PR) — Moon Express, Inc. is one step closer to becoming the first private company to land a spacecraft on the Moon. The company today announced it signed a contract with Rocket Lab on Sept. 30 to launch three Moon Express robotic spacecraft to land on the Moon starting in 2017. Moon Express is the first company in history to secure such a contract.
“Our goal is to blaze a trail to the Moon to unlock its mysteries and resources so we can improve life on Earth,” said Moon Express Co-Founder and CEO Bob Richards, who made the announcement at the Space Technology & Investment Forum in San Francisco. “We are thrilled to have this contract in place with Rocket Lab and to work with them in fulfilling our dream of providing low-cost missions to the Moon for science and commerce.”
Moon Express Co-Founder and Chairman Naveen Jain added: “Moon Express is building disruptive technologies that will forever change the cost of access to space, including the asteroids and even the moons of Mars. We are now taking advantage of exponential technology like 3D printing and inexpensive sensors to collapse the capital needed to access the Moon. Coupling these technological advancements with today’s news about the Rocket Lab launch contract is a huge step forward for us in opening whole new markets for space exploration.”
Under the launch services contract, Rocket Lab will use its Electron rocket system to launch three missions of Moon Express’ MX-1 lunar lander spacecraft. The MX family of flexible, scalable spacecraft/landers are capable of reaching the lunar surface from Earth orbit on direct or low-energy trajectories. The breakthrough robotic space vehicle offers multiple applications, including delivery of scientific and commercial payloads to the Moon at a fraction of the cost of conventional approaches.
Two launches of MX-1 have been manifested with Rocket Lab for 2017, with the third to be scheduled at a later date. Moon Express has the option of launching from Rocket Lab’s private launch range in New Zealand or from an American range.
“Rocket Lab is pleased to begin working with Moon Express to launch its spacecraft and to provide support to such an ambitious mission. Moon Express has used advanced orbital mechanics to enable this mission from low-Earth orbit,” said Peter Beck, Rocket Lab CEO. “The new contract with Moon Express shows the broad market demand for Rocket Lab’s affordable, high-frequency Electron launch vehicle.”
Moon Express, which is focused on building a sustainable, full-service space exploration business, is also pursuing the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition to land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters and transmit back high-definition video and images to Earth. The company was awarded $1 million by Google (GOOG) earlier this year as the only team to flight test a prototype of its lander.
About Moon Express, Inc.
A privately funded commercial space company, Moon Express, Inc. is developing innovative, flexible and scalable robotic spacecraft that will radically reduce the cost of space exploration and unlock the mysteries and resources of the Moon for the benefit of life on Earth. The company combines best practices of traditional aerospace “know-how” with the innovation and entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley. Headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Park in California, Moon Express was founded in August 2010 by Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, Naveen Jain and Dr. Barney Pell. It was quickly selected by NASA for its $30 million Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program, and as a partner in its Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) program to spur commercial cargo transportation capabilities to the surface of the Moon. Moon Express is a recognized leader in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. For more information, visit www.moonexpress.com.
About Rocket Lab
Rocket Lab’s mission is to remove the barriers to commercial space. It was founded on the belief that small payloads require dedicated small launch vehicles and the flexibility not currently offered by traditional rocket systems. Since its creation in 2007 by New Zealander Peter Beck, Rocket Lab has delivered a range of complete rocket systems and technologies for fast and affordable payload deployment. Rocket Lab is a privately funded company, with major investors including Khosla Ventures, K1W1, Bessemer Venture Partners and Lockheed Martin. Rocket Lab is headquartered in Los Angeles with operations and a launch site in New Zealand. For more information, visit https://www.rocketlabusa.com/.
71 responses to “GXLP Likely Extended as Moon Express Signs Launch Contract with Rocket Lab”
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I predicted something a lot like this 3 months ago; see comments on this post; http://www.parabolicarc.com…
Of course they will extend it. The alternative is to admit failure.
I wish we could see more hardware from Moon Express. Does anybody else remember when John Carmack would post Armadillo updates like once a week? Those were the days…
Back in the original X-Prize days, when JC wrote the more or less regular AA updates was the time when I became aware of (and hooked to) the whole concept of “newspace”.
Sadly, not much has changed since then (with the exception of SpaceX not a single system has become operational since then!), just that nobody any longer provides any kind of regular public updates… AA is gone, Virgin Galactic probably still makes more PR than anybody else (it just doesn’t provide any real content), SpaceX has stopped regular updates long ago, the XCOR blog is not worth the title “blog” and Blue Origin… well they are surprisingly talkative these days but are still kind of the opposite of SpaceX and VG: they keep most of the interesting stuff to themselves.
Without the “crazy” groups like Copenhagen Suborbitals, we Space Tech enthusiast would probably die of information deprivation. 😉
On the other hand it is probably a sign some of the firms may be on to something. The closer you get to having a money paying business model, the quieter you get so nobody tries to share the profits by copying you.
In terms of VG, I always saw Virgin Galactic as more of a PR vehicle for the Virgin Brand than anything else. That is why it latched on to the the Ansari X-Prize, another PR stunt. That is why you get the constant stream of PR, not because of progress but to keep the Virgin name out there.
.. and the days that Elon was posting personally about the technical achievements and challenges of SpaceX.
At MoonEx we do our best to be transparent while also being careful about our competitive environment and we also have a policy to post about what we’ve done, not boast about what we want to do. Space gods laugh at arrogance and sooner or later make us all humble.
That is refreshing as there is far too much hype in the new space world.
I understand and appreciate posting about what you have done, and not boasting about what you want to do.
Is your most recent technical/hardware update the MTV-1X test flights you posted on YouTube on January 15th?
Yes it is. We are eager to unveil our newest developments… and of course how our lander/spacecraft technology can be configured for the Rocket Lab Electron…. sometime soon.
This statement in Moon Express’ news release is flat wrong: “Moon Express is the first company in history to secure such a contract.”
At BlastOff Corporation in summer 2000 we placed Lockheed Martin on contract for an Athena 2 rocket to launch our robotic lunar lander/rover, then under development, to the Moon, targeting a launch in the 2002 timeframe. We paid several sizable monthly payments totaling several million dollars to Lock Mart during subsequent months.
Though the BlastOff effort was terminated in early 2001 due to the dot-com bust, it was the inspiration for the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
Good to keep the record straight Rex. Though I suppose they could say that “such” a contract depends upon your definition of “such.” 😉
If “such” means a contract for multiple lunar launches on multiple launchers, then okay. (Or, a lunar launch contract specifically with Rocket Lab.) If for a commercial lunar launch, then no.
Yup. Mainly I just saw an opportunity to parallel Pres. Clinton’s contention about the word “is.” But seriously, has anyone written a book about BlastOff’s efforts? If I’ve forgotten – well, it is about 2am here.
Yes, it would be a good story to read. I wish the late Dennis Laurie had written up the story of TransOrbital. He also had some firsts, including being the first firm to actually get the licenses needed (ITAR and NOAA) to send a payload to the Moon.
Yes, these firms, and the journalists that get the press releases, need to do some research before making statements. For example this press release in July from Rocket Labs.
Rocket Lab Announces World’s First Proposed Commercial Launch Site
I would say that SpaceX might have a claim to that honor that as well with its South Texas site 🙂
Rex, Moon Express has total respect for the BlastOff! legacy and the incredible things you guys accomplished back then. And yes it did lead to the GLXP. What our PR team is trying to convey with the secondary headline is that the contract is for multiple (3) lunar launches, committing to multiple attempts to land on the Moon, and is therefore a first/unique.
How do you interpret the requirement of a 100 gram to 500 gram payload that must be 1% of the crafts mass?
Tim, the mass of the reserved “XPF Payload” under the GLXP rules is calculated according to the mass of the “Craft” or secondary vehicle that carries the XPF Payload, and is required to be one percent (1%) of that Craft or secondary vehicle’s dry mass. The XPF Payload cannot be less than one hundred (100) grams and has an upper limit of five hundred (500) grams, and it’s inert – i.e. it requires no services from the Craft or from any secondary vehicle other than inclusion in images and video. Hope that helps.
Thanks. Of most interest is whether this requirement sets 10 kg as the lower mass limit of yours and anyone’s “mobility unit” (rover, etc.) that will satisfy GLXP requirements. The GLXP requirement seems to be effectively two reqs in one (generally considered poor practice).
The “1%” is not a rigid requirement, only the lower bound is rigid (i.e. 100g). e.g. if you design a 200g lander then the GLXP payload set aside will be half your vehicle mass. Above that, the 1% rule kicks in until you hit 500g … but we are pretty sure GLXP wouldn’t complain if a team offered more than 500g for the XPF payload….
I think it is fantastic, that a company mentioned on Parabolic Arc is actually participating in the discussion. Hat’s off to you!
Thank you. We believe thoughtful questions & comments should get thoughtful replies.
Thanks for the clarification. Welcome to Parabolic Arc!
RocketLabs can put 130KG to 700 km and moon express stated they will launch from a GTO orbit. So rocket labs can put how much payload to GTO? 50-75 KG?
Anyone know what the weight of the MX-1 payload is?
Bob Richards says “something under” 10 kg will be delivered to lunar surface.
The MX-1 configuration revealed in 2013 is optimized to fit inside an “ESPA” type adaptor ring as a secondary payload on a relatively large rocket that can take us to GTO or beyond and reach the lunar surface from there…
The “MX-1E” configuration is optimized to fit inside the Electron shroud and reach the lunar surface from LEO.
The payload capacity of each MX-1 configuration is dependent on launch and trajectory particulars, and the amount of fuel, if any, reserved for mobility on the surface.
So about 22 pounds to the surface? How much is the weight of the rover?
There is no rover in the Moon Express mission architecture. Our mobility is provided by the lander itself, which after landing, is able to launch again and fly to other locations on the Moon. In the case of the GLXP requirement for mobility, the challenge is to move 500 meters “above, below or across the surface of the Moon” from the landing site. The competition is not about how the mobility is done, i.e. using a rover is only one of many possible solutions. Moon Express’ view is why crawl when you can fly….
Thanks for explaining the systems. I assumed a rover because of the mobility requirement. Good luck in the up coming endeavor.
“It is not the ship so much as the skillful sailing that assures the prosperous voyage.” – George William Curtis
Just for the record, along with the last deadline extension through 2017 came the requirement that at least one team had to have a launch contract by end of 2015, or the competition would terminate.
If that requirement were met, the other teams would have until the end of 2016 to get launch contracts and be allowed to continue in the competition.
So this agreement fulfills the first item
I believe that was already fulfilled by Astrobotics and Hakuto’s launch contracts.
Even if it wasn’t I expect they would have found an excuse to extend it. Otherwise they would have to admit the Google X-Prize was a failure, which would be bad PR for the X-Prize Foundation.
Regarding our compliance with the GLXP, the Moon Express launch contract with Rocket Lab USA still needs to be reviewed and verified by the XPRIZE Foundation. We expect that process to take up to 30 days.
We are pleased that Google / XPRIZE have a rigid process established to verify launch contracts. Although some GLXP Teams have made references to launch agreements, no launch contracts have yet been verified by the GLXP.
has RocketLab ever launched a vehicle?
The Electron rocket is still in development, but if I remember correctly they have some experience with smaller sounding/suborbital rockets.
Yes, the Atea 1 in 2009, the first private launch in the Southern Hemisphere.
NZ rocket blasts off – and so will profits, maker says
Chris Keall, Monday November 30, 2009
This article includes the specs on it.
You can argue that SpaceX proved rockets can be developed at lower cost and manufactured less expensively, but their development time was about par. Will Rocket Lab have theirs ready in 24 months? The 2nd and 3rd flights are as much a hedge for Electron’s success. Lunar Surveyor weighed 995kg at launch, 295kg upon landing. Express’ will have to be less than 100kg dry and 300kg wet. The Electron can carry 150kg to orbit? Better make that lander <50kg dry mass.
Jeff Foust over at Space News talked to Bob Richards. He said the lander (a hopper, really) will weight “something under” 10 kg.
Yes, something made of aerogel and lathered up with shaving cream. 🙂 No, actually. I’ll respond to your other post.
The “something under 10kg” was actually a reference to the lander payload capacity, not the lander itself. TimR is correct in his calcs (although the Electron performance of 150kg is for a nominal SSO from a relatively high inclination…. its capabilities vary depending on launch site).
The dry mass of our lander weighs less than a Golden Retriever. The payload mass deliverable by the lander is dependent on launch & trajectory particulars and trades with reserve fuel for surface mobility.
Moon Express has never flown anything into space. Rocket Lab has never launched an orbital rocket, much less sent anything to the moon. You have a lot of risk there.
Rocket Lab is supposed to launch an orbital rocket by the end of the year. We’ll see how that goes. I don’t know what sort of pace they’re on in terms of launches. I guess a lot will depend on how the early flights go. So, they should be able to buy down some of that risk by the time Moon Express is ready to go.
Moon Express will try to win the GLXP with a hopper that will bounce around the moon til it travels 500 meters. Jeff Foust over at Space News reports it’s going to be a very small vehicle:
In an Oct. 1 interview, Bob Richards, co-founder and chief executive of Moon Express, said that Electron will be able to send “something under” 10 kilograms to the surface of the moon. “That’s good for our purposes in our first missions,” he said. “Call it an entry-level lunar mission.”
So, let me ask you guys the following:
Is a vehicle that size really going to be able to do much of anything other than hop and send back video? Is that result worth paying $20 million first prize for? Do you think this is what X Prize envisioned when it launched the prize?
I’m being serious here. I’m not a tech person, so I’m wondering how much value you can get out of a lander/hopper of that size. I know you can do a lot with small spacecraft now.
Yes, like the Ansari X-Prize it appears the loosely worded requirements may allow a firm to slip by without really fulfilling the purpose of it. But again, like the Ansari-X Prize the PR value of it for the X-Prize Foundation will be big and will bring likely bring more money to the foundation. But I wonder, like the Ansari X-Prize, if it will lead to a similar long gap (11 years come Sunday) before any follow up missions occur.
As a side note, Rocket Lab states their research and development is based in New Zealand, and Moon Express is a U.S. firm, so that also means ITAR will likely be involved, unless Rocket Lab launches from the U.S., then you will need FAA AST involvement. So you need to add several months of paperwork to any schedule for ITAR and/or FAA AST. Hopefully they will recognize this and start the process now. Also, since they will have a camera, they will also need a license from NOAA for Earth imaging. Again, paper work.
This is a good point that we’d like to help clarify. The Moon Express contract is with Rocket Lab USA (http://www.rocketlabusa.com/), and their NZ operations are a subsidiary. Rocket Lab USA and its foreign subsidiary are completely compliant with U.S. ITAR laws. Rocket Lab has received funding from DARPA and has a Commercial Space Launch Act Agreement with NASA.
ITAR is a very important consideration when dealing with any foreign entities.
The Moon Express launch contract is with Rocket Lab USA, which is compliant with all U.S. ITAR laws. The NZ operations are a subsidiary and is set up with the required TAA’s.
Rocket Lab USA has received funding from DARPA and ONR and has a Commercial Space Launch Act Agreement with NASA.
I don’t think it’s about getting value. It’s about getting there in the first place and encouraging new ways of doing that.
Go to the 1980s and ask what value there would be in a small rocket like Electron, because that was before cubesats.
Very good point!
Agree entirely with your point about this being a pathfinder mission for private space more than anything, but I think you could probably eek out a surprising amount of research potential from a simple hop about with a camera. After all, almost all previous landings happened either in or around the lunar maria. Get that MX-1 down into one of the craters or hoping around the highlands dislodging regolith and we could have some surprises!
The smallest tactical nuclear weapon weighed 20kg (~50lbs), W54, so I don’t think they will be sending a flashy fireworks-type payload of that sort. We should all be relieved… right?
My LG G4, nearly the best smart phone on the market, weighs 5.5 oz, that is, .15kg. Any smartphone of that class has everything you need for attitude control, telecom, processing power to control mechanisms and process data, thermal and power management. Actually, it is overkill in several respects. Take away the display and reduce weight of the casing and you can send two redundant units that together weigh 0.15kg.
There are some really small lightweight scientific instruments that would provide VIS/IR spectral imaging (inexpensive). You could send an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS)(getting pricey) as used on all the JPL Mars rovers and Philae. India will have one on their Chandrayaan-2 rover (20 kg rover). The Indian rover has two ideal complementary instruments – the APXS and a Laser-induced breakdown spectrometer (Expensive) like the “ray-gun” that is mounted on the mast of MSL Curiosity. However, those two prime instruments will be the instruments of choice for future prospectors and there is no doubt that simple very low cost versions will become a reality.
Its possible that a research group that builds APXS could step forward for no cost so long as they are the controllers and owners of the instrument and data. These are basic instruments. There is all kinds of things you can do with 5 to 10 kg of rover and its payload.
I guess my question is if you have said something weight say 8 kg to the moon, what part of that is the fuel you need to lift off again and land 500+ meters away in order to win the prize?
I’m also assuming the smart phone and other technologies you’re talking about will have to be rad hardened so they don’t get fried long before they reach the moon. There’s probably weight and cost penalties to that, right?
I’m concerned that you will get something that meets the requirements of the prize (just barely) but isn’t sufficient to build upon technically or business wise.
SpaceShipOne was like that. The vehicle got to 100 km, but it wasn’t really built very well for tourism. And they’ve spent a decade trying to scale it up. If they had gone with a beefed up SSOne, would that have worked? Perhaps. Given Burt Rutan’s lack of understanding of rocketry and nitrous oxide, they probably killed people in flight if they hadn’t done it first on the ground. How much of the fault lies with the prize and how much with Burt Rutan’s failure to grasp rocket technology is an interesting question.
Look at the automotive X prizes they awarded. 100 miles to the gallon. Three companies did it. But I don’t think any of them ended up really producing anything long term. I recently looked at their websites, and not much activity. The results were interesting concept cars that none of the competitors were able to advance. The real advances like Tesla didn’t come out of a prize.
Turns out that smartphones are pretty rad-tolerant but certainly not in league with the RAD6000 or RAD750 based electronics whose flight boards cost about half a million. If you have redundant or triple redundant systems designed off-the-shelf taking most rad-tolerant low-cost ICs or SOCs, you’ll last months. The bigger problem is probably extremes of temperature – thermal control requiring power and storage.
I really doubt that the Express hopper will use propulsion to ‘move’ 500 meters. It will use a mechanical device – catapult it by loading up the device with an electrical wench and release the stored energy; something like grasshopper legs. The mobility device should be really lightweight. A kilogram should be all it needs.
I agree that Express’ rover is not commercially viable. They know it. Now Astrobotic’s Griffin is meant to be viable from the start but consequently more costly to get off the ground which makes finding payload customers more difficult. Express’ front lobby exhibited their interest in Helium-3 (but no fusion reactor for it [yet]). That’s what they would like to first demonstrate- mine, process and packup back to Earth. Space natural resources mined & processed by robotics is the future for humanity but the initial startup costs holds back everyone.
But how much will your power supply weight to provide the energy to send a signal to Earth?
Well yes, the solar panel, battery add significant mass. The transmitter, solid state, need only be ~5W with a mid-gain antenna. A 20 meter radio dish, which are common, could pick it up. Transmit while in sunlight and feed power directly as well as from batteries. The batteries are also needed for heaters for surviving a lunar night (if you want to extend the mission more than 2 weeks). Power & Telecom might be 2 or 3 kg for a <10kg rover.
But would that be enough for a HD signal? Note one of the GLXP requirements.
“Mooncasts – A team must transmit two “Mooncasts” from the surface of the Moon. The first Mooncast would be after lunar arrival and the second would be at the completion of the mobility requirements. Each Mooncast must contain eight minutes of video in both high definition (720p) and
near real time transmitted as high priority that can be in a lower resolution, a panoramic photograph to give a 360° view of the arrival or mission completion site, images showing a substantial portion of the craft and payload, and set of data provided by XPRIZE including a video and audio message, an email, and a text message. Prior to their launch
the team must submit technical details of their mission for review by the Judging Panel.”
The mooncasts can probably be done with just a 5 watt transmitter because the high def can be transmitted at a low rate and the near real-time can transmit a low resolution; both fitting in low bandwidth. What’s interesting is the other requirements that states that lunar XPrize will provide a small payload that is 1% of the mass of the “craft”, the small payloads mass range being 100 grams in 500 grams which translates to the crafts being between 10 kg and 50 kg. The lingering Q is what does “craft” mean? The rover (mobility unit), the lander in total upon touchdown or the spacecraft at launch? It must mean the “rover” that makes the 500 meter trek. GLXP probably doesn’t care how the rover reaches the surface whether a soft touch down or in a brown paper bag. So Moon Express it would seem cannot deliver a tiny Rover which is less than 10 kilograms.
This looks like it may be an indication of that, a firm that is not part of the Google X-Prize.
Moonspike: Behind the scenes of the company using Kickstarter to get to the moon
Yet another launch vehicle. Because no one has been able to provide a low-cost solution for small payloads, a do-it-yourself rocket remains like a lamp post to a moth. They can’t help themselves and Doug M has that list of 20+ rocket projects.
Which has always been the barrier to a lunar mission, the lack of money to buy a launch. The rest is not that difficult, especially given how advanced commercial telebots are.
Well, lunar orbital insertion and then landing the craft is no cakewalk but you would think a rover would be an easier part yet look at what happened to the Chinese rabbit. It’s at the launch vehicle the lander development is expensive.
The one big problem for rovers is getting through the lunar night, which is what did Jade Rabbit in. That is the advantage the Russians had, being used to cold weather they recognized the need for a radioactive heat source for the lunar night. If you don’t have a way to get through the night you need to plan to do all your work before sunset, or to land where you are to stay always in daylight as with Lunarcorp’s planned rover. I expect the next Chinese rover with have a good radioactive heater.
The reason GLXP has taken this long is not so much technology but rather management. The engineers and “executives” of most of the start-ups mis-managed their startup funds and lost any investor interest. Failure to pitch their project is also part of it too. There’s been no Hadden Industries that has popped up for any of them.
The companies that have had some big investors are outside the scope of GLXP. Planet Lab, Skybox, Spire, Planetary Resources. Those concerns have clearer company objectives and paths to profit. Planetary Resources is a curious one in that they seem to have spent a lot of startup money recreating a JPL-like environment and operations style – costly. It may look very formal and professional but its likely costs a lot of initial funds. So long as their their private investors keep feeding them, it should turn a profit 20 years from now. Investing in space, be it ‘roids or rockets is not for the faint of heart. Elon Musk must be applauded and honored the most in that respect.
On your point, I disagree. It is necessary to follow through with GLXP. The technology and know-how to build a lander including reducing cost and mass will be transferred to the next generation of lunar ventures. If you dropped GLXP now or if everyone fails to build and launch a lander before the deadline, it will delay the first gen of private lunar missions by a few years. That’s not because there won’t be people wanting to engineer a lander but rather investor interest will flat-line, even with falling LV prices.
Which brings up the point I keep making about the weakness of the GLXP, it is and has been more about fund raising than it is technology. Find a billionaire with a spare 50-60 million and its easy. Without a billionaire it won’t happen.
Absolutely correct. The top 3 risks of the GLXP, in declining order, have always been, 1) fundraising, 2) regulatory, 3) technology.
Moon Express was not created to win the GLXP, our legacy precedes it and our business plans are not dependent on it. But we intend to win it and applaud the GLXP, and Google for funding it, as it has mandates to inspire and educate the public and kids as well as sets goals to incentivize innovation and achievement while sparking a new industry.
As noted above in other comments, the GXLP provides a nice potential offset to initial mission costs. The prize is “COD”, without “forward funding” anything, which makes it about fundraising [note the grand prize is for acts done AFTER completing the highest technical risk element of a lunar surface mission (landing)].
Re: “without a billionaire it won’t happen”, Moon Express is privileged to count a number of billionaires among our investors. But it’s still not easy…
Meet our visionary co-founder & chairman, Naveen Jain
Also, a video profile of Naveen done a couple of years ago in the documentary, “How To Be A Billionaire”…
Thanks. I am familiar his career and know of Steve Durst’s International Lunar Observatory having briefed Steve once on my plans for K-12 education with lunarbase.com. I also know Dr. Burns from my days at NMSU, he was a major supporter of the spaceport, so you have a good team. The hoppers would be a good tool for building student interest in the Moon.
Small world. Thanks for your good wishes. We’re working hard and trying to keep it real amongst the hype out there.
As additional data re investments, the Silicon Valley Business Journal rated Moon Express as the #4 Silicon Valley space start-up based on fundraising success (using the article’s math, we would actually be #3 after SpaceX and Planet Labs, and ahead of Spire.. but we applaud and cheer ALL companies achieving fundraising success… it’s very hard to do, and the rising tide floats all spaceships…).
Moon Express’ publicly disclosed investment profile is available on Crunchbase, showing $31.5M raised to date:
What is interesting about this, is that it might actually cause the other groups to get rolling. They may need a rich benefactor, or simply cut a deal with spacex.
OK, I see pluses and minuses here.
On the plus side, Moon Express would demonstrate the ability to put something on the moon. That’s a significant achievement. And it might jump start the company’s effort to be able to carry experiments and commercial payloads to the moon.
However, the initial missions will use landers/hoppers with very limited payload capacity and utility. Enough to win the prize, but well short of the larger lander that they have actually flight tested in Florida and wanted to send to the moon. That will have to be proven later. (Here again, shades of SpaceShipOne — an experimental ship that never carried payloads — people — that proved what was possible but wasn’t ideal for the actual job at hand.)
From a scientific standpoint, we’re well beyond the point where just getting to the moon with a small spacecraft and few instruments is that useful. We’ve landed rovers, landers and men on the surface. Hundreds of pounds of moon rocks have been returned to Earth. We’ve mapped the moon in every possible way from orbit.
We really need vehicles on the surface of some size and complexity that will be able to do a number of sophisticated investigations concerning ice, lava tubes, etc. Systems will need rovers, drills, sensors that can peer below the surface, those types of things.
The analogy here is Beagle 2, the doomed lander that ESA sent along with Mars Express. It was an interesting technological demonstrator, and it would have been awesome if it had worked. But, in terms of tell you much of anything about Mars, it would have been of questionable utility. Just getting there isn’t enough. And that’s why we send sophisticated landers and rovers to the surface.
There’s the underlying question of whether there’s really a sustainable market for sending things to the moon. The initial landers will have very little payload. So a very limited business there. The larger landers will have not been demonstrated yet. Until they are, customers will be reluctant to risk anything really important on them.
I dunno. We’ll see how things go.
Doug, these are all good points… you are using the term “useful” here from a scientific / exploration perspective. “Useful” to Moon Express, at least initially, is whatever helps us learn, burn down risk, demonstrate, build confidence, establish our business proof of concept, and even better if we earn revenue along the way…
We’ve talked about the MX-1 being flexible, adaptable and scalable. These are core design features that allow us to be agile as new technologies emerge, and new low cost launch options come on line.
Baby steps. We’re standing at the base camp of a very high mountain we have to climb, and we are getting our gear in place.
We very much appreciate the rational and thoughtful discussions on these threads. Somewhat a breath of fresh air from other sites… and inspires us to try to provide data and feedback that we hope is helpful, although please forgive us if we can’t go into as much technical depth as some would like just yet. We understand the appetite to know how we plan do do this… and we will reveal our “MX-1E” lander configuration in the near future… we’re pretty excited about it.
BREAKING: According to the GLXP, turns out MoonExpress is not the first team is a launch contract! Looks like SpaceIL beat them to the finish line?