December 6, 2013

Moon Express Plans First American Lunar Landing In More Than 40 Years

[ Watch the Video: Commercial Lunar Landing Planned For 2015 ]

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

The privately-held company Moon Express has revealed the small exploratory craft it has scheduled to land on the Moon by 2015, which would mark the first American landing on the lunar surface since 1972.

Debuted at the Autodesk University show in Las Vegas on Thursday evening, Moon Express’ MX-1 craft is about the size of a coffee table, meaning it isn’t large enough to carry a human traveler. However, it could be used to collect lunar rocks and dirt, store them and return to Earth. Even small amounts of lunar geological samples could be valuable as previous samples have contained significant amounts of titanium, platinum, and other rare elements.

According to said Bob Richards, CEO and co-founder of Moon Express, sample collection is just one of the functions the MX-1 is capable of performing.

“The MX-1 is not just a lunar lander, it is a spacecraft workhorse with many markets,” Richards said. “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.”

According to the Moon Express website, the MX-1 is a ‘green’ spacecraft that uses hydrogen peroxide as fuel and is powered by sunlight.

“The spacecraft rockets use a high test version of the consumer level hydrogen peroxide widely available in drug stores,” said Tim Pickens, a propulsion engineer at Moon Express.

Now that water molecules have been discovered on the Moon, the company said it plans to look at lunar ice as a potential source of hydrogen peroxide rocket fuel. The main rocket that launches the craft also uses kerosene as an afterburner to give the MX-1 an extra boost away from Earth’s gravity and for breaking thrusters that slow the craft’s descent to the lunar surface.

The company is introducing the MX-1 as the first in a series of robotic space vehicles. These crafts are being planned for use both in orbit around Earth and for deep space missions.

In July, the company announced a joint mission with the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) that would send a craft to the Moon’s South Pole for mineral resources and water. The mission will also deliver the International Lunar Observatory (ILO) to the South Pole, which is slated to be the first instrument to perform international astrophysical observations and communications from the surface of the Moon.

“The ILO will demonstrate the value of the Moon for scientific study of the Galaxy, Moon, Earth, Sun and Stars,” said Steve Durst, founder and director of the ILOA and Space Age Publishing Company.

Moon Express also announced in July that it would be partnering with NASA as its lunar lander developer.

“We are very excited to announce that our second Moon mission will be to the lunar South Pole to deliver the International Lunar Observatory and to prospect for resources,” Richards said. “The mission will provide a historic landing in an unexplored region of the Moon that may harbor some of the greatest resource deposits in the solar system.”