Looks like we’ve got ourselves an old-fashioned Moon race. A second company in the Google Lunar XPRIZE has announced they have a launch contract to get to the Moon, which means that come 2017, we could see a “sprint” of sorts take place across the lunar surface. Who ever said we weren’t in the future yet?
The latest company is Moon Express, based in California. They have announced that they will get their MX-1E micro-lander there on a Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab USA launcher. This rocket has yet to actually fly for the first time, but the company is intending for it to be a low-cost method to reach space. Moon Express will be launched from either the U.S. or New Zealand.
The goal of the Lunar XPRIZE is to travel 500 meters (1,640 feet), and the first company to do so will receive a prize of $20 million (£13 million), while second place gets $5 million (£3 million) and there are various other technical bonuses, such as traveling further.
Moon Express hope to win by “hopping” their lander across the surface with thrusters. They have plans for two other landers in 2017, all on a Rocket Lab USA vehicle, and their ultimate goal is to collect and utilize resources from the Moon, such as helium-3 – which some say could be used in nuclear fusion reactors.
“We applaud Google and XPRIZE for setting up such a visionary competition, and we’ve got our eyes on the prize,” said Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards in a statement. “Our long-term goal is to unlock lunar resources for the benefit of humanity, and we are thrilled to have our contract in place with Rocket Lab allowing us to provide low-cost missions to the moon for science and commerce.”
Moon Express is now one of two Lunar XPRIZE teams with a launch contract to get to the Moon. The other, Israeli-based company SpaceIL, has a contract to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, also in 2017. This means there is a slim possibility that the two teams will go head-to-head in the race to travel 500 meters across the surface of the Moon.
The other company in the race is SpaceIL, but there is time for more to enter… Image credit: SpaceIL
SpaceIL’s lander will also “hop” across the surface, like Moon Express. It’s unlikely the two landers will be located near each other on the surface, though we can hope for at least a bit of drama, especially if they land within a few weeks of each other.
“Having multiple teams attempting actual missions to the Moon is a hallmark of a genuine competition,” Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE, said in the statement. “Verified launch contracts are the ‘bona fides’ that teams need to demonstrate that they are in it to win it. Moon Express’ accomplishment has brought XPRIZE closer to the Moon.”
The remaining 14 teams in the competition have until December 31, 2016, to come up with a launch contract and participate in one of the most amazing races of all time.