Moon Express aims to be the first private company to mine on the moon. NASA

One private company is aiming to be the first to mine for materials on the moon — and they want it to happen in just a few years. Privately owned Moon Express said it planned to have a landing craft on the moon in 2020 to harvest a scoop of lunar soil and bring it back to earth.

The scoop of dirt and rocks will be somewhere between the size of a baseball and a basketball. And while some of it will be given to science for experimentation, the rest will be sold commercially.

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“In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth’s economy and potentially our second home,” Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain said in a press release on their website. “Imagine that.”

Moon Express aims to be the first private company to mine on the moon. NASA

The mission, dubbed Moon Express 2017, was approved by the United States government, making it the first private company to receive such permission from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S. government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit,” Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said in the press release. “We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eight continent, the moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity.”

Moon Express announced in January they had raised another $20 million in private equity for the lunar mission, bringing their financing up to $45 million. Investors included entrepreneur Peter Theil and other organizations.

Private companies aren’t the only ones considering mining the moon. NASA has an outline of the technology on its website and even President Donald Trump’s team broached the topic when he was transitioning into office in January.

But what type of materials, exactly, is Moon Express planning on bringing back to Earth? According to NASA’s outline of moon mining, there are three types: water, helium-3 and rare earth metals. Water on the moon, in addition to being necessary for functioning life, could be converted into rocket fuel. Helium 3 is a rare element that could be harvested for use in energy developments like those in nuclear fusion. Finally, rare earth minerals are used in modern electronics.

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While Moon Express intended to be the first private company to mine on the moon, NASA noted that private company Space X was attempting to solve the problem of launch costs by producing reusable rockets that could make their way to the moon. Assuming that works, a hypothetical lunar mining colony could begin involving 3D printers, a helium-3 storage facility, robot miners and a lunar base.

“The reality is,” NASA said on its website. “Until we get there and fight it out, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

A close up of the moon is shown in this image released by NASA, Sept. 7, 2010. NASA