Space

Moon Express reveals design for its MX-1 lunar lander

Moon Express reveals design fo...
The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander acts as a hub for activity on the lunar surface, sending forth microhoppers or microrovers to explore (Photo: Moon Express)
The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander acts as a hub for activity on the lunar surface, sending forth microhoppers or microrovers to explore (Photo: Moon Express)
View 9 Images
Moon Express Founder and CEO Bob Richards reveals the MX-1 design concept at an Autodesk University presentation (Photo: Moon Express)
1/9
Moon Express Founder and CEO Bob Richards reveals the MX-1 design concept at an Autodesk University presentation (Photo: Moon Express)
The lunar lander MX-1 approaching the Moon's vicinity through the blackness of space (Photo: Moon Express)
2/9
The lunar lander MX-1 approaching the Moon's vicinity through the blackness of space (Photo: Moon Express)
The MX-1 lunar lander takes a selfie after landing (Photo: Moon Express)
3/9
The MX-1 lunar lander takes a selfie after landing (Photo: Moon Express)
The MX-1 lunar lander will have the ability to send out microrovers to explore the lunar landscape near the landing site (Photo: Moon Express)
4/9
The MX-1 lunar lander will have the ability to send out microrovers to explore the lunar landscape near the landing site (Photo: Moon Express)
An Earth return module launches from an MX-1 lander, returning samples from the lunar surface (Image: Moon Express)
5/9
An Earth return module launches from an MX-1 lander, returning samples from the lunar surface (Image: Moon Express)
The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander acts as a hub for activity on the lunar surface, sending forth microhoppers or microrovers to explore (Photo: Moon Express)
6/9
The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander acts as a hub for activity on the lunar surface, sending forth microhoppers or microrovers to explore (Photo: Moon Express)
The MX-1 relies on a highly modular design to effectively carry out the multiple and diverse tasks required to succeed in a lunar landing (Image: Moon Express)
7/9
The MX-1 relies on a highly modular design to effectively carry out the multiple and diverse tasks required to succeed in a lunar landing (Image: Moon Express)
The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander in orbit around the Moon (Photo: Moon Express)
8/9
The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander in orbit around the Moon (Photo: Moon Express)
The multiple missions being contemplated for the MX-1 lander and its future siblings (Photo: Moon Express)
9/9
The multiple missions being contemplated for the MX-1 lander and its future siblings (Photo: Moon Express)

Moon Express, a privately held company driven by a short-term goal of winning the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, and a longer-term strategy of mining the Moon, last week revealed its MX-1 lunar lander at the closing session of Autodesk University in Las Vegas. Not a one-trick pony, the MX-1 is being designed as the first of a series of robotic spacecraft that can carry out a multitude of tasks in Earth orbit as well as in deep space.

About the size of a large coffee table, the MX-1 is a spacecraft that has the self-contained capability to reach the lunar surface from a geosynchronous transfer orbit, such as those commonly followed by communications satellites on their way to geosynchronous orbit. The delta-v required to move from a geosynchronous transfer orbit through low lunar orbit to a lunar landing is about 3.2 km/sec (7,160 mph). This requirement places rather strong conditions on the makeup and effectiveness of the lander's propulsion system.

Moon Express Founder and CEO Bob Richards reveals the MX-1 design concept at an Autodesk University presentation (Photo: Moon Express)
Moon Express Founder and CEO Bob Richards reveals the MX-1 design concept at an Autodesk University presentation (Photo: Moon Express)

When fully fueled and ready to launch, the MX-1 will weigh about 600 kg (1,320 lb), its small weight and dimensions making it suitable as a secondary payload, traveling for example in the wake of a new communications satellite. The result will be far smaller launch costs than if a dedicated launch vehicle were required to send the MX-1 on its journey, perhaps as small as US$6-8 million – not pocket change, but a tiny cost compared to historical numbers.

Three-quarters of the launch mass of the MX-1 will be fuel for its main rocket engine, which has been given the joint tasks of propelling the spacecraft toward the Moon, and to then achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface.

The MX-1 relies on a highly modular design to effectively carry out the multiple and diverse tasks required to succeed in a lunar landing (Image: Moon Express)
The MX-1 relies on a highly modular design to effectively carry out the multiple and diverse tasks required to succeed in a lunar landing (Image: Moon Express)

The main engine for the MX-1 is a bipropellant liquid fuel rocket designed to use high concentration hydrogen peroxide as a monopropellant, assisted by injections of kerosene when breaking out of Earth orbit. The engine will use hydrogen peroxide alone for most maneuvers, with kerosene only being used to enter the Earth-Moon transfer orbit.

This choice of fuel, or rather of multiple fuels, is quite unusual. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a water molecule with an extra oxygen molecule forced on. Best known for its use in the Bell Rocketbelts and their descendents, propellant-grade H2O2 is quite a hazardous substance.

As a monopropellant, when H2O2 comes into contact with a catalyst, it converts into a mixture of steam and oxygen at a temperature of about 600° C (1,100° F). When directed through a rocket nozzle, these decomposition products yield a rather small specific impulse of about 150 seconds, indicating a performance level midway between black powder and the composite propellants used in large-scale booster rockets.

The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander in orbit around the Moon (Photo: Moon Express)
The Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander in orbit around the Moon (Photo: Moon Express)

When combined with kerosene (RP-1 fuel), the specific impulse jumps to about 300 seconds. There is currently no information on how much kerosene is in the fuel tanks of the MX-1, but presumably enough to push the MX-1 into lunar orbit. However, the descent from orbit and landing maneuvers will be carried out using H2O2 alone, a feat only practical owing to the Moon's low gravity.

One reason mentioned by Moon Express for using H2O2 as a propellant is the discovery of considerable quantities of water on the Moon, particularly near the poles which are the tentative landing site for the MX-1. Given water and electricity, the MX-1 would also have hydrogen and oxygen available. As there do exist methods of making hydrogen peroxide based on electrolysis, it appears that Moon Express is placing a sizable bet on being able to manufacture extra rocket fuel at the landing site. This is what is sometimes known in the English civil service as a courageous decision.

The MX-1 is not intended simply to serve as a lunar lander. It is the basis for a flexible spacecraft that can support multiple missions ranging from acting as a smart upper stage for existing launch systems, satellite servicing missions, serving as a space tug, returning lunar samples to Earth, and, perhaps in modified form, taking on an important role in deep space exploration.

The multiple missions being contemplated for the MX-1 lander and its future siblings (Photo: Moon Express)
The multiple missions being contemplated for the MX-1 lander and its future siblings (Photo: Moon Express)

"The MX-1 is the ‘iPhone of space’; a platform capable of supporting many apps including our core plan of exploring the Moon for resources of benefit to humanity," says Bob Richards, founder and CEO of Moon Express. "Moon Express will utilize the MX-1 in its maiden technology demonstrator flight in 2015, delivering a number of commercial and government payloads to the Moon and pursuing the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE."

The design of the MX-1 does show considerable ingenuity in its aggressively modular design, which seems well suited to its immediate and future tasks. We wish them well with this immensely challenging project.

Source: Moon Express, Inc.

3 comments
Slowburn
Fortunately going to Jupiter's moons for ice is not that difficult given the way the moons ice is going to be wasted.
Paul Bedichek
The moon's ice would be wasted if we didn't use it for rocket fuel,oxygen for breathing and water for drinking. I'd like to see water from the moon delivered to the space station even though it would be more expensive at first. The asteroid mining mission will also accomplish this possibly cheaper with a lower delta v. Kudos to Google and Moon Express this is exactly the kind of forward thinking we were counting on after we spent so many billions getting to the point of finding that water on the lunar surface.
Slowburn
@ Paul Bedichek The rocket propellent and oxygen is a waste. Refining metal will produce oxygen in excess of the need for breathing the Ice should go to creating and maintaining a biosphere. Why get a trickle of water from the asteroids when there is oceans for the taking on the gas giants moons and nobody to complain about your using a nuclear rocket along the lines of a NERVA for surface to orbit operations.