Florida startup boldly sets sights on moon

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Florida startup Moon Ex­press is set­ting its sights high: am­bi­tiously shoot­ing to be­come the first pri­vate com­pany to launch a small, un­manned craft to the moon be­fore the year’s out. A big suc­cess could pave the way for sched­uled flights to de­liver sci­en­tific and ex­plo­ration equip­ment, to ex­ploit lu­nar soil re­sources and com­mer­cial po­ten­tial. In a re­cent in­ter­view with AFP, CEO and co-founder Robert Richards ac­knowl­edged that it is a “very op­ti­mistic date given that the rocket has yet to achieve or­bit and given we are still build­ing our ve­hi­cle.”

The race to try this first flight on a tight dead­line was mo­ti­vated at least in part by the $20 mil­lion of­fered by the Google Lu­nar Xprize in 2007. The con­di­tion: be a pri­vate en­tity and launch a craft to the moon’s sur­face by Dec 31, 2017. Another con­di­tion will be, once on the moon, to move the ship or a ro­bot on board, over 500 me­ters, and to trans­mit a video and pho­to­graphs back to Earth.

For now, Cape Canaveral, Florida-based Moon Ex­press is one of five fi­nal­ists in this con­test on the 33 in the run­ning - and the one most tipped to win. The four oth­ers are Ja­panese team Hakuto, Is­rael’s SpaceIL, In­dian Team In­dus and Syn­ergy Moon, an in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion span­ning more than 15 coun­tries.

Bold, long-term ex­plo­ration plan

“We would love to win the prize, (it would be) the ic­ing on the cake,” Richards said. He said the com­pany was not about the rush, so much as the goal. “Our com­pany is about build­ing an en­ter­prise, a vi­sion­ary en­ter­prise to bridge first to the moon in an eco­nomic way that col­lapses the cost of get­ting there and de­vel­ops brand new mar­kets. And with a long term plan of prospect­ing and har­vest­ing and ul­ti­mately uti­liz­ing the re­sources on the moon... be­gin­ning with wa­ter,” stressed Richards, a Canadian. Wa­ter is the es­sen­tial main in­gre­di­ent for man to be able to ex­plore the so­lar sys­tem, he said. Nec­es­sary for man but also to fuel his jour­ney. “The moon be­comes like a gas sta­tion in the sky, be­cause the wa­ter, the oxy­gen and the hy­dro­gen can be rocket fuel. So it is a very im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion.” Lu­nar soil is also rich in plat­inum and he­lium-3, which are rare on Earth. They po­ten­tially could be used for nu­clear fu­sion. Moon Ex­press’s rel­a­tively small lu­nar ves­sel, dubbed MX1-E, mea­sures just three feet (0.91 me­ters) wide by 4.5 feet high.

A can of soda?

Shaped like a soda can with feet to land, it is made of a sin­gle stage, and its en­gine al­lows it to fly from the Earth’s or­bit to the moon. It will take five to six days be­tween launch and moon land­ing, ac­cord­ing to Richards. In fact, he said, MX1-E is the first mod­ule of an ex­plo­ration sys­tem, much like a “Lego” block that is as­sem­bled fur­ther to get larger ve­hi­cles ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing heav­ier loads. The other ves­sels are MX2, MX5 and MX9, the num­bers cor­re­spond­ing to the num­ber of mod­ules.

In part due to its com­pact size, MX1-E can be launched by the new Elec­tron rocket man­u­fac­tured for $5 mil­lion by Amer­i­can startup Rocket Lab. It launches from fa­cil­i­ties in New Zealand. There are still three test flights be­fore the launch of MX1-E, of the four planned. “They are a lit­tle be­hind but they are do­ing very well... It is cur­rently sched­uled in De­cem­ber,” said Richards, who plans three mis­sions to the moon by 2020. In ad­di­tion to the first flight with MX1-E, a sec­ond is pro­grammed to the lu­nar south pole, rich in wa­ter ice, to es­tab­lish a ro­botic re­search sta­tion there. Then, a third mis­sion aims to bring back sam­ples of lu­nar soil. — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.