As private enterprise takes the place of governments for creativity and initiative in orbit, one might wonder why there isn’t more focus on the once obvious but elusive prize of astronomical exploration: the moon. Sure, companies have found ways to launch their own satellite networks and hell, they’re even working on tractor beams. But what about Luna?
Two major initiatives are urging companies to aim for the second major luminary. NASA’s Catalyst program is urging companies to make “soft landings” on the surface with probes and ships. Google’s Lunar X is doing much of the same. The prestige of the world’s greatest space agency and the $30 million incentive from Google to win its private space race have a couple dozen promising candidates looking to reach the surface.
We featured two headline grabbers, Moon Express and Astrobotic Technologies, in a list of up-and-coming space-bound companies in August.
Here is a handful of the companies looking to break new ground:
1. Shackleton Energy Company
The Shackleton Energy Company is the brainchild of Dr. Bill Stone of Stone Aerospace. Stone’s project focuses on supplying fuel for lunar returns to Earth by mining lunar ice caps to produce liquid hydrogen and oxygen. The company claims it will generate its own revenue within four years and will be able to break even in 12 years. They estimate the cost of making it all happen to be $10 billion, which also fits NASA’s estimate to simply get to the moon in today’s lovely economy.
2. Bigelow Aerospace
Bigelow Aerospace is the only company on this list that has a license to use land on the lunar surface. They grabbed the permission from the FAA for the purpose of “related areas that might be tapped for mining, exploration, and other activities.”
What is interesting about Bigelow is that they might be able to exploit a loop hole in one of the only space-related treaties in existence. The U.S. and Soviet Union agreed not to claim territory on the lunar surface in the future, and now, no country can claim territory anywhere in space.
But sovereignty does not equal property, meaning enterprises have a chance to plant their own homesteads if they want to. If a private initiative managed to build a functioning lunar base, they would be the first proprietary owner of lunar territory ever.
3. Masten Space Systems
A lunar landing project, the company won NASA’s last moon challenge in 2009 with its vertical-takeoff-vertical-landing (VTVL) Xombie. Their expertise in vertical takeoff won them a grant from a major partner recently: They were one of three recipients of a $6.5 million contract from the U.S. military to work on the XS-1 space plane.
Yes: The luxury car brand surprised many earlier this summer by announcing their partnership with Part Time Scientists, a German team competing for Google’s Lunar XPRIZE.
“Audi is also providing wide-ranging assistance in testing, trials and quality assurance,” Wired reports. “In addition, the Audi Concept Design Studio in Munich is revising the rover, which will be named the ‘Audi lunar Quattro’, to ensure ideal lightweight construction conditions.”