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Cape Canaveral Company Unveils Ambitious Moon Missions

Artist's rendering of the Moon Express MX-1E on the lunar surface. Photo: Moon Express
Artist's rendering of the Moon Express MX-1E on the lunar surface. Photo: Moon Express

Moon Express plans to send a lander about the size of Star Wars’ R2-D2 droid to the lunar surface later this year.

CEO Bob Richards says he wants to eventually establish a research outpost on the moon and send samples of moon rocks back to earth by 2020.

Richards unveiled the three-part expedition Wednesday. The first mission will send the company's lander, called MX-1E, to the equator of the moon loaded with science experiments. The mission will be the first commercial trip to the moon.

A second mission will establish a lunar base at the moon's south pole with the hopes of finding concentrations of water and other resources. The company's third mission, expected before 2020, will attempt to land on the surface, collect moon rocks and then sent them back to Earth.

So why the moon? The company hopes to mine the lunar surface for water – a resource that can be used for rocket fuel. The moon could serve as a solar-system fuel station for deep space missions like trips to Mars.

Moon Express is the first private space company to receive US government approval to leave low Earth-orbit.

If the company can land on the lunar surface this year, it’s eligible to win Google’s $20 million XPrize. Moon Express contracted private rocket company Rocket Lab USA to send the first lander to the moon. The company's Electron rocket launches from New Zealand.
Listen: Moon Express CEO Bob Richards joins WMFE's "Are We There Yet?" podcast to chat about private lunar expeditions.

Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program. Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration, and the weekly news roundup podcast "The Wrap."