Science fiction fans, take note. A private company, Moon Express, has just revealed its grand vision to launch the early stages of a mining operation on the lunar surface. From Ars Technica on Wednesday:
“The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successfully larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon.”
Moon Express representatives unveiled the plans Wednesday at a hearing before Congress’ Science, Space and Technology Committee. The company got approval from the United States government to launch its first craft, the MX-1E, in August of last year.
The system is modular in that it’s based on individual pods, robots called MX-1s that remarkably resemble R2-D2. The pods, each one powered by Moon Express’ own PECO engine, can be fitted together to form a single craft that can fly as one and then separate when it reaches its target destination.
The individual MX-1s would use thrusters — again, sort of like R2-D2 — to move about the lunar surface collecting rocks. When its compartments are full, the pod would launch and head back to Earth.
The collected samples, which Moon Express hopes to have in its possession following its third mission launch in 2020, would be available to the private sector. As company co-founder Bob Richards told Ars Technica, “We absolutely intend to make these samples available globally for scientific research, and make them available to collectors as well.”
This would be after the company establishes a lunar outpost on the moon’s southern pole, where sunlight is constant. The stated purpose of this phase of the mission is to “prospect for water and useful minerals, and accommodate a variety of research instruments for our expedition partners.”
The plans fit comfortably within Moon Express’ overall goal to “open the lunar frontier for all of us, ultimately expanding Earth’s economic and social spheres to our 8th continent, the Moon,” as the company writes on its site.
A problem Moon Express will have to overcome first, however, is the “E” in MX-1E. The Electron rocket, intended to power these craft out of Earth’s atmosphere, which is also being developed by another private company, Rocket Lab, has thus far failed to deliver its payload into orbit.