Moon Express, a start-up that plans to mine the lunar surface for rare and precious metals, took one step closer to making its moonshot a reality on Thursday, signing a deal with Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab for three robotic lunar craft launches starting in 2017.
Among the moon's mineral riches: gold, cobalt, iron, palladium, platinum, tungsten and Helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste.
Moon Express has won more than $500,000 under NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program and $1.25 million as a part of Google's Lunar XPRIZE competition, which will award $30 million to the first company that lands a commercial spacecraft on the moon, travels 500 meters across its surface and sends high-definition images and video back to Earth.
Google awarded the company money for being the only company of 16 to test a prototype of its lander, putting Moon Express ahead of the competition in the ongoing private space race to the moon. The Moon Express MX spacecraft has gone through several design iterations and is designed to produce a family of spacecraft/landers capable of reaching the moon's surface from Earth's orbit.