In the next 12 months, a race will culminate to land a private probe on the lunar surface. One of the competitors just got incentive to go for the gold. Florida-based Moon Express has raised $20 million to finish its battle to become the fourth group and first private venture to land on the moon. The money will also help write off the costs of the space race as the company builds the infrastructure for a long-term moon-mining venture.
“We now have all the resources in place to shoot for the Moon,” company Co-Founder and CEO Bob Richards said. “Our goal is to expand Earth’s social and economic sphere to the Moon, our largely unexplored eighth continent, and enable a new era of low cost lunar exploration and development for students, scientists, space agencies and commercial interests.”
The Google Lunar XPRIZE will go to the first team whose rover lands on the moon, crawls 500 meters, and sends back video from the moon’s surface. The Moon Express probe, to be dubbed the MX-1E, will be launched by the New Zealand-manufactured Electron rocket made by Rocket Lab. The Kiwi company will sell ME five of its Electron models, presumably not all of them intended to support the XPRIZE mission or serve as backups for it.
The Electron is yet to make its maiden voyage and might be a wildcard in the highly-funded project’s effort to win the race. It has been reported that the company will hold its first launch at the end of January.
Moon Express is the de facto American entrant in the contest, but its bank account might not be enough to win a battle with Israel’s SpaceIL, India’s Team Indus, and Japan’s Hakuto. The Indian and Japanese entrants will land at the same time with HAKUTO hitching a ride with TeamIndus before the two rovers part ways and independently try to capture the $20 million prize waiting for the winner.
To encourage the teams to make the most out of their efforts even if they don’t win, Google is also offering a $5 million second prize and a $5 million reward for anyone who brings back new discoveries from the lunar surface.
The round was led by the Founders Fund, Autodesk, and the Collaborative Fund according to Crunchbase. Richards added that Co-Founder Naveen Jain also redipped into his chips into the company’s coffers.
“He not only participated at a significant financial level, but also gave other investors the confidence through his commitment that they should invest as well.”
Only the United States, the Soviet Union, and China have landed probes on the moon. A successful venture here would constitute the first private effort and could make Israel, India, Japan, or Hungary the fourth country to land on the moon at all.
The company finally gained permission from the US government to run a mission to the moon back in August, paving the way for possibly cornering the market in harvesting helium-3 from the lunar surface.