Google Prize Fully Financing First Private Moon Mission
Private space exploration company Moon Express reportedly has the cash and the willpower to land a rover on the moon and collect $30 million in prize money put up by Google.
Moon Express secured an additional $20 million in funding from private investors over the weekend, enabling the U.S.-based company to make a moon-shot later this year, according to Space.com.
Moon Express needs to get to the moon by Dec. 31, 2017 to meet a deadline for a Google Lunar X Prize, valued at $30 million in total. The prize requires a private company to land “a robot on the surface of the Moon, traveling 500 meters over the lunar surface, and sending images and data back to the Earth.” The second company to do this will earn a mere $5 million.
The company joined the contest in 2012 and is one of only two teams to have secured a rocket launch contract for its lander. The company intends to bring rocks from the moon to Earth by 2020.
“Even though we are a proud contender [in the X Prize competition], it’s neither a cornerstone of creating the business nor do we need to win it,” Bob Richards, CEO of Moon Express, told The Verge. “But we want to win it.”
Federal regulators gave Moon Express permission last August to send a lunar lander to the moon this year.
Other teams in the running for the XPrize like SpaceIL from Israel, Japan’s Hakuto, and the international collaboration Synergy Moon, but none have yet obtained the money they’ll need.
The company’s plans were hampered with hesitance from the Obama administration. The Department of State attempted to stop Moon Express from sending the robot in order to enforce a treaty originally signed in 1967 with the Soviet Union. Moon Express was forced to get a regulatory “patch” and allow the government to directly oversee the flight.
“The great news was there is a regulatory process in the works,” Richards said. “The bad news is we had zero confidence that the regulatory framework would be ready in time for our mission in 2017. Ironically you had a great ‘space resources’ act that says you can own what you get, but we’re in a situation where you can’t launch to go get it.”
This will be the first private space mission beyond Earth orbit, but the private company SpaceX plans to follow it up by ending a spacecraft to Mars in 2018 and Bigelow Aerospace wants to launch space hotels by 2020.
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