Space

Moon Express to begin commercially harvesting lunar rocks in 2020

Moon Express to begin commerci...
The 2020 "Harvest Moon" expedition will be the first commercial operation to send lunar rocks back to Earth
The 2020 "Harvest Moon" expedition will be the first commercial operation to send lunar rocks back to Earth
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Expedition one will be called "Lunar Scout"
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Expedition one will be called "Lunar Scout"
The 2020 "Harvest Moon" expedition will be the first commercial operation to send lunar rocks back to Earth
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The 2020 "Harvest Moon" expedition will be the first commercial operation to send lunar rocks back to Earth
The first expedition will launch later in 2017
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The first expedition will launch later in 2017
The "Lunar Scout" will deliver a payload of research instruments to the Moon's surface
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The "Lunar Scout" will deliver a payload of research instruments to the Moon's surface
The MX-5 Discovery Class Explorer
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The MX-5 Discovery Class Explorer
The MX-5 Discovery Class Explorer
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The MX-5 Discovery Class Explorer
The MX-1 first expedition craft
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The MX-1 first expedition craft
The MX-2 is basically two MX-1 pieces connected to each other
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The MX-2 is basically two MX-1 pieces connected to each other
The MX-9 is the big "solar system conquering" craft
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The MX-9 is the big "solar system conquering" craft
View gallery - 9 images

The private race to the moon just kicked up a notch with Moon Express revealing in detail its plan to begin commercially harvesting moon rocks by 2020. The company is set to become the first commercial presence on the Moon sending back lunar samples as well as establishing a permanent lunar research outpost.

Moon Express is racing along as a major contender in Google's Lunar Xprize, a competition that will award US$20 million to the first privately-funded company to land a spacecraft on the Moon. One of the primary benchmarks to win the Xprize competition is thatany contender must launch their expedition before the end of 2017.

Expedition one will be called "Lunar Scout"
Expedition one will be called "Lunar Scout"

The company has outlined three expeditions that will roll out over the next few years starting with "Lunar Scout" at the end of 2017. This first expedition will demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of the approach, and carry several payloads to the lunar surface including the International Lunar Observatory and several scientific instruments as part of a research project called "MoonLight".

The second expedition, to be launched in 2018, is set to explore the Moon's South Pole. A lunar research outpost will be established to prospect for water and useful materials.

The third expedition is the big one. Dubbed "Harvest Moon", this will begin the company's business phase of what they are calling "lunar resource prospecting". This mission will include the delivery back to Earth of the first commercially-obtained moon samples.

The MX-1 first expedition craft
The MX-1 first expedition craft

Moon Express also revealed more detail on the crafts that have been developed to achieve these lofty goals. The MX-1 is proposed as the initial spacecraft to embark on the first expedition. Referred to as similar in size and shape to the Star Wars R2-D2 droid, the craft function like building blocks and can be reconfigured to expand overall payload.

The MX-5 is described as the "lunar workhorse" and can be fitted with a variety of configurations incorporating MX-1 systems. The MX-9, lined up for the 2020 expedition, is the most comprehensive craft of the collection. Able to support lunar sample return operations this craft is being called "solar system conquering".

The MX-9 is the big "solar system conquering" craft
The MX-9 is the big "solar system conquering" craft

Moon Express is certainly proposing an ambitious timeline but it could very well deliver on its bold promises. In 2016 it became the first private company to receive US government approval to land on the moon. This landmark decision opened the door to what President Trump has subsequently called "the large-scale economic development of space."

With a variety of private companies exploring off-Earth possibilities the commercial exploitation of lunar resources is becoming a real prospect. A new space race is heating up and this time it is coming from the private sector.

Take a look at the lunar rock prospecting process in the video below.

Source: Moon Express

Moon Express Harvest Moon Expedition 3

View gallery - 9 images
10 comments
jade_goat
Great stuff! Best of luck to them!
I think that not enough attention has been given to getting back to the moon, so I'm thrilled to see companies like this giving it some attention.
Ianspeed
Oh my gawd, can we not leave anything alone without meddling!! What happens when we start bringing back moon rock, and messing with the mass of the moon, because greed will take over and everyone will want a piece of the action! Trump might want some for his stupid wall as well, bang goes a huge amount of the moon,. What happens when the time comes that we have messed up the tides and all other manner of things that rely on gravity. Why do we need more minerals? Because we have an ever expanding population on this planet on which we live, let's just slow our population explosion down and let the planet have some breathing space for once, have we not learnt anything from history! By all means go to the moon, but leave it there where it belongs...
Paulinator
...yeah sure. Teleporting.
JohnHanna
Good deal. I would like a slice of moon rock. Could never afford it.
barry09
Great,we are now going to litter the moon with scrap metal!!
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Helium 3 will probably be the first major export from the Moon, as it produces non neutronic fusion.
Bruce H. Anderson
I wonder what on the moon is so valuable as a commodity that it is worth the effort to bring it to earth?
CraigAllenCorson
That looks like a pretty pathetic payload for all of that effort. Ianspeed, you don't seem to understand how huge the moon is. Every person on Earth could have a ton of lunar regolith. and it wouldn't even make a dent, never mind affect the tides. The mass of the Moon is 7.347 x 10e22 kg.
Nik
'' In 2016 it became the first private company to receive US government approval to land on the moon.'' Since when has the USA been the official controller of who can land on the moon? I cant see the Chinese asking the USA's permission, or Russia, or Japan, or India, or.......! So why should Moon Express need it?
Joseph Dunfe
Nic, the U.S. governs launches within the U.S. So, a U.S. based launch requires permission.
Lanspeed, I am afraid you are underestimating, by an EXTREME amount, how big the moon is, and overestimating, by an EXTREME amount, how much material could be removed from the moon, even if it is widely done.
There is however, something I would like to see, in terms of regulating how the moon is used. I would want to restrict any action that could be visible from Earth. Perhaps define "visible" as anything that can be seen by the eye through a 24" telescope.