Private company Moon Express to launch spaceship to analyze potential mining capabilities

12/08/2013 - 00:00

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.

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.