OPINION: Another Space Company Is In The Moon Race

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Mark Whittington Contributor
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Moon Express, a company based in Florida, was one of the five competitors of the Google Lunar XPrize that vowed to continue its mission to the lunar surface when the competition ended without a winner.

But rumors of cash flow problems at the company persisted, according to Space News, which threatened its ability to send its robot probe to the moon.

Two recent developments have brought Moon Express back in the game and buttressed its status as a player in the new, private push to the moon, which also includes another American company, Astrobotic, Israel’s SpaceIL and Japan’s iSpace, among others.

The prize may ultimately be wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

First, Moon Express has gotten an infusion of fresh cash: $2.5 million from the Minerva Capital Group in Miami, and $10 million as part of a $20 million Series B round by an undisclosed investor.

The money will allow the company to finish a spacecraft processing and testing facility at LC-17, a former launch complex at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and to complete construction of Moon Express’ first spacecraft, the Lunar Scout.

The second event was the signing of a memo of understanding (MOU) between Moon Express and the Canadian Space Agency. The MOU, it is hoped, will lead to the flying of Canadian instruments and experiments to the lunar surface. Moon Express has also signed an MOU with a Canadian company to develop lunar mining technology.

With more financing secured and a possible international market for its services being developed, innovators are in a stronger position to be a player in the return to the moon being conducted by NASA with commercial partners.

The selection of the first companies that will fly small landers with NASA instruments under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program is due at the end of the year for flights in 2019 and 2020. Engineers believe they can be ready to fly by July 2020.

Moon Express has contracted with another company to launch its lunar landers on its Electron Rocket. Depending on the size of the lander and customer requirements, the company may stay with Rocket Lab or seek a launch on a larger rocket, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The plans involve larger lunar landers after the first mission. The second mission would land on a plateau called “The Peak of Eternal Light” at the lunar South Pole to gather data on ice thought to reside in nearby shadowed craters. The peak enjoys near-permanent sunlight, useful for gathering solar power, and is in communications range of Earth. The third mission would obtain samples of lunar dust and rocks for delivery back to Earth for study.

The establishment of a service to take payloads to the moon and samples back to Earth would be a remarkable feat, considering that only governments have been able to land on the lunar surface.

But the company’s ultimate goal is a little grander; it will include ice, which can be used to sustain lunar explorers and be refined into rocket fuel that would create a refueling station on the moon for voyages into deep space, particularly Mars.

London’s Birkbeck College Professor Ian Crawford and the late Dr. Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute south of Houston pointed out that other possible resources include platinum-group metals, rare earths, and industrial materials such as iron, titanium, aluminum, and silicon.

Crawford added that with the exception of rare earths, the transport of these materials to Earth would not be economically viable. But, lunar resources could spark a new space-based industrial revolution that would enrich humanity beyond current imagination. The quest to get a piece of that development is an ambition worthy of a future that is greater than the present.

Mark Whittington has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as The Moon, Mars and Beyond. He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.