Moon Express gets $20m it needs to land rover on the moon

16 Jan 2017

The lunar surface. Image: HelenField/Shutterstock

With its eyes on the $30m Lunar X Prize, Moon Express has secured the $20m it needs to send the first commercial rover to the surface of the moon by the end of this year.

While companies like Planetary Resources ponder the possibility of mining asteroids for their precious minerals, some companies are looking a little closer to home to find a potential gold mine – or, at least, a lunar mine.

Having received US government approval in November to land a spacecraft on the moon – becoming the first commercial entity to do so – Moon Express has now taken another major step in its journey with a new lucrative round of funding.

According to Space News, Moon Express has closed a Series B-1 financing round of $20m from new and existing investors, bringing its total investments to $45m. Founder Bob Richards has expressed interest in raising a further $10m as a “contingency”.

With this latest funding, the company’s first objective will be to claim the coveted Google Lunar X Prize of $30m for whoever lands a rover on the moon and manages to make it travel 500m on the lunar surface.

Going by Moon Express’s plan, the lunar rover will also contain scientific equipment and instruments from seven other companies that it has signed contracts with.

Working to a tight deadline

Speaking to Space News, Richards has said the company’s focus will now be on developing and upgrading its propulsion system for its spacecraft currently undergoing development at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

In addition to its own spacecraft engine, work is undergoing on developing the Electron launch vehicle from another company called Rocket Lab. This will enable the craft to enter geostationary transfer orbit, a considerably more difficult challenge than entering low orbit.

While Rocket Lab plans to launch its first test vehicle next month, the pressure is now on for Moon Express. In order for it to claim the Lunar X Prize, it must complete the mission before the final day of 2017.

“We have high confidence that Rocket Lab will be ready to receive us with an operational vehicle,” Richards said. “We hope they get to an operational status as quickly as they hope they will.”

If successful, Moon Express plans to harvest the moon’s natural resources, including vast amounts of helium-3 that could be used to make cleaner nuclear energy in fusion reactors.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic