Moon Express, a private space exploration company whose goal is to send a spacecraft to the moon by the end of 2015, just unveiled its MX-1 lunar lander, a lightweight, hydrogen peroxide-fueled spaceship capable of collecting moon samples and returning to Earth. Dubbed the “iPhone of Space” by co-founder and CEO of Moon Express Bob Richards, the MX-1 could become the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon in more than 40 years.
NASA’s lunar landing program, during which the first humans grazed the satellite’s surface, ended in 1972 with the Apollo 17 mission. But now, entrepreneurs such as Moon Express are battling it out to be the first to send a privately funded mission to the moon.
It’s all part of the Google Lunar X Prize, an international competition to land a robot on the moon. The fist private space exploration company to do so by the end of 2015, and have the spacecraft travel at least 1,650 feet and beam data and images back to Earth, will be awarded $20 million.
According to Space.com, 22 teams are still in the running. California-based Moon Express, or MoonEx for short, is a formidable contender. On Thursday, the company unveiled its MX-1 design at the Autodesk University show in Las Vegas. And it has grand ideas for the spacecraft’s future.
"The MX-1 is not just a lunar lander; it is a spacecraft workhorse with many markets," Richards said in a statement. "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."
The micro-spacecraft runs on a type of hydrogen peroxide similar to the stuff you can buy at a drugstore. The MX-1 is relatively lightweight for a spacecraft, tipping the scales at just over 1,300 pounds, and is designed to be transported to space by piggybacking on a satellite launch.
Company officials say that in addition to collecting samples from the moon, the spacecraft could also service satellites and even clean up space debris.
"We really have tried to create a multifaceted, flexible and scalable spacecraft that can be utilized by other people for a number of different business applications," Richards told Space.com.
The company hopes to make money by flying commercial and government missions to the moon.
"We're developing three new rocket engines at our Propulsion Development and Test Facilities in Huntsville and benefiting greatly from new advances in digital 3D design and fabrication tools,” Tim Pickens, Chief Propulsion Engineer at Moon Express and former propulsion lead for SpaceShipOne, said in a statement.