Moon Express
HeadquartersCape Canaveral, FL 32920
Key people
Robert D. Richards, Naveen Jain, Barney Pell
Footnotes / references
Moon Express's machines are designed to look for materials that are scarce on Earth

Moon Express (MoonEx), is an American privately held early-stage company formed by a group of Silicon Valley and space entrepreneurs. It had the goal of winning the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, and of ultimately mining the Moon for natural resources of economic value.[1][2] The company was not able to make a launch attempt to reach the Moon by the March 31, 2018, deadline for the prize.


In August 2010,[3] Robert D. Richards,[4] Naveen Jain,[5] and Barney Pell co-founded Moon Express, a Mountain View, California-based company that plans to offer commercial lunar robotic transportation and data services with a long-term goal of mining the Moon for resources,[6] including elements that are rare on Earth, including niobium, yttrium and dysprosium.[1][7]

Beginning in 2010, Moon Express based itself at the NASA Ames Research Center. Moon Express and NASA signed a contract in October 2010[8] for data purchase that could be worth up to US$10,000,000.[1][9]

On June 30, 2011, the company held its first successful test flight of a prototype lunar lander system called the Lander Test Vehicle (LTV) that was developed in partnership with NASA.[4] On September 11, 2011, Moon Express set up a robotics lab for a lunar probe named the "Moon Express Robotics Lab for INnovation" (MERLIN) and hired several engineering students who had successfully competed at the FIRST Robotics Competition.

In mid-2012, Moon Express started work with the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) to put a shoebox-sized astronomical telescope called International Lunar Observatory on the Moon.[10]

By 2012, MoonEx had 20 employees, and in December 2012, MoonEx acquired one of the other Google Lunar X-Prize teams, Rocket City Space Pioneers, from Dynetics for an undisclosed sum. The agreement made Tim Pickens, the former lead of the RCSP team, the Chief Propulsion Engineer for MoonEx.[11] In September 2013, MoonEx added Paul Spudis as Chief Scientist and Jack Burns as Science Advisory Board Chair.[12]

In October and November 2013, Moon Express conducted several free flight tests of its flight software utilizing the NASA Mighty Eagle lander test vehicle, under a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.[13] One month later, in December 2013, MoonEx unveiled the MX-1 lunar lander, a toroidal robotic lander that uses high-test hydrogen peroxide as its rocket propellant to support vertical landing on the lunar surface.[14] On April 30, 2014 NASA announced that Moon Express was one of the three companies selected for the Lunar CATALYST initiative.[15]

By December 2014, Moon Express successfully conducted flight tests of its "MTV-1X" lander test vehicle at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility, becoming the first private company (and GLXP team) to demonstrate a commercial lunar lander test.[16]

In 2015, the company announced that it would relocate to Florida's Cape Canaveral in 2015.[17] In July 2016, Moon Express stated it would be taking over Cape Canaveral Launch Complexes 17 and 18.[18]

On July 20, 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration approved Moon Express plans for a mission to deliver commercial payloads to the Moon, making Moon Express the first private company to receive government approval for a commercial space mission beyond traditional Earth orbit under the requirements of the Outer Space Treaty.[19][20]

On October 31, 2017, NASA extended the agreement for the Lunar CATALYST initiative for 2 more years.[21]

On 12 July 2018, both historic launch towers at Space Launch Complex 17 were demolished via controlled demolition to make way for Moon Express facilities to test its lunar lander.[22] That month, Moon Express was unable to make payroll and laid off nine employees; the employees did not receive back-pay until October 2018.[23]

In October 2018, the company signed several collaboration agreements with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and a number of Canadian aerospace companies.[24]

On November 29, 2018 Moon Express was awarded a Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract by NASA, which makes it eligible to bid on delivering science and technology payloads to the Moon for NASA.[25]

Google Lunar XPRIZE

The company was a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize.[26] The prize was an award of $30 million to the first team to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon and deliver data, images and video from the landing site and from 500 meters away from its landing site.[5]

By October 2015, there were 16 teams competing for the prize. On January 23, 2018, X Prize founder and chairman Peter Diamandis stated "After close consultation with our five finalist Google Lunar X Prize teams over the past several months, we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the moon by the March 31, 2018, deadline."[27]


The company's robotic spacecraft are modular and scalable platforms that can be configured as landers or orbiters.[28] All MoonEx robotic spacecraft use low-toxicity fuels, advanced carbon composites and silicates and a Moon Express PECO rocket engine.[29] The PECO main engine uses RP-1 as a fuel and hydrogen peroxide as an oxidiser. The landing thrusters use hydrogen peroxide as a monopropellant.[30] PECO stands for 'propulsion that is eco-friendly'.[31] The company has the "MX lander family":[32]

  • MX-1 – a single-engine spacecraft with a mass of 250 kg (fuelled); 30 kg payload capacity.[33]
  • MX-2 – a twin-engine spacecraft with a 30 kg payload capacity.
  • MX-5 – a 5-engine platform configuration that can include MX-1 or MX-2 staged system. The MX-5 has a 150 kg payload capacity.
  • MX-9 – a 9-engine platform configuration, designed for sample return. The MX-9 has a payload capacity of about 500 kg.[29]

Planned missions

Moon Express signed a contract with Rocket Lab on 30 September 2015,[34][35] for five launches[36] where Rocket Lab will use its Electron rocket system to launch the lunar missions. Two launches are for 2019, with a third to be scheduled at a later date,[34] possibly for 2020.[37]

The first mission, called the Lunar Scout, is planned for 2019 and will use the MX-1E lander.[38] This is a technology demonstration flight that will include three payloads:[39]

The second mission is the Lunar Outpost MX-3,[32] a robotic lander to the lunar south pole that would scout for water ice and useful minerals.[39] The third mission, called Harvest Moon, would be a sample-return mission for 2020.[39]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Hennigan, W.J. (2011-08-20). "MoonEx aims to scour Moon for rare materials". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-04-10. MoonEx's machines are designed to look for materials that are scarce on Earth but found in everything from a Toyota Prius car battery to guidance systems on cruise missiles. ... The company is among several teams hoping to someday win the Google Lunar X Prize competition, a $30-million race to the Moon in which a privately-funded team must successfully place a robot on the Moon's surface and have it explore at least 1/3 of a mile. It also must transmit high definition video and images back to Earth before 2016. ... should be ready to land on the lunar surface by 2013.
  2. ^ Brown 2011.
  3. ^ Chow 2011.
  4. ^ a b "Moon Express Announces First Successful Flight Test of Lunar Lander System Developed With NASA Partnership". Moon Express. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Caulfield, Brian. "Naveen Jain: 'Think Of The Moon As Just Another Continent'". Forbes. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
  6. ^ Knafo, Saki (July 22, 2011). "The New Space Biz: Companies Seek Cash In The Cosmos". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
  7. ^ "Moving the heaven to get some rare earth". Chennai, India: The Hindu. June 2, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Hennigan, W.J. (2011-04-08). "MoonEx aims to scour Moon for rare materials". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
  10. ^ Sutherland, Paul. "Moon Express to fly lunar telescope". Retrieved 19 August 2012.
  11. ^ Lindsey, Clark (2012-12-20). "MoonEx Acquires RCSP of Dynetics". NewSpace Watch. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
  12. ^ Kohlenberg, Brad (2013-09-05). "Moon Express Announces Dr. Paul Spudis as Chief Scientist and Dr. Jack Burns as Science Advisory Board Chair". Google Lunar XPRIZE Blog. Retrieved 2013-09-16.
  13. ^ Mohon, Lee (15 May 2015). "NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center's Mighty Eagle Successfully Concludes Test Series".
  14. ^ Messier, Doug (2013-12-05). "Moon Express Unveils 'MX-1' Commercial Lunar Lander". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2013-12-07.
  15. ^ "RELEASE 14-126 NASA Selects Partners for U.S. Commercial Lander Capabilities". NASA.GOV website. NASA. April 30, 2014. Retrieved May 3, 2014.
  16. ^ Herridge, Linda (3 March 2015). "Moon Express Completes Initial Flight Tests at NASA's Kennedy".
  17. ^ Dean, James (22 January 2015). "Private moon firm to sign deal for test flights at Cape".
  18. ^ "Moon Express takes over Cape Canaveral Delta 2 launch site". 12 July 2016.
  19. ^ Pasztor, Andy (June 5, 2016). "U.S. Set to Approve Moon Mission by Commercial Space Venture". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  20. ^ "Florida Company Gets Approval to Put Robotic Lander on Moon". The New York Times. 4 August 2016.
  21. ^ Erin Mahoney. "NASA Extends Agreements to Advance Commercial Lunar Landers". NASA.GOV. Retrieved November 2, 2017.
  22. ^ "Towers at disused Florida launch pad to be toppled Thursday – Spaceflight Now". Retrieved 2018-07-12.
  23. ^
  25. ^ "NASA Announces New Partnerships for Commercial Lunar Payload Delivery Services". NASA. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  26. ^ "Intelius' Naveen Jain Turns to Moon Mining, Philanthropy". May 9, 2011. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  27. ^ Ex-Prize: Google's $30 Million Moon Race Ends with No Winner. Mike Wall, Space. 23 January 2018.
  28. ^ Moon Express Unveils Lunar Mission Architecture. Press Release - Source: Moon Express. July 12, 2017.
  29. ^ a b Grush, Loren. "To mine the Moon, private company Moon Express plans to build a fleet of robotic landers". Retrieved 9 August 2017.
  30. ^ Moon Express. "We hydrogen peroxide as oxidizer in our bi-prop PECO main engine, & as a monopropellant for our landing & "hopping" thrusters". Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  31. ^ Moon Express unveils its roadmap for giant leaps to the lunar surface … and back again. Alan Boyle, GeekWire. July 12, 2017.
  32. ^ a b Speaker Interview: Dr. Alain Berinstain, Vice President of Global Development, Moon Express. Space Tech Expo. March 2018.
  33. ^ MX-1: Scout Class. MoonEx. 2017.
  34. ^ a b "Moon Express signs historic launch agreement for private missions to the Moon". Moon Express – Press release. SpaceRef. 1 October 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  35. ^ "Moon Express Launch Contract to be Verified by Google Lunar XPRIZE". SpaceRef. 4 October 2015. Retrieved 2015-10-05.
  36. ^ Cape Canaveral's Moon Express among companies selected for NASA lunar program. Emilee Speck, Click Orlando. 29 November 2018.
  37. ^ Moon Express Aims for Multiple Lunar Landings, Sample Return Mission By 2020. Jay Bennett, Popular Mechanics. 13 July 2017.
  38. ^ Pietrobon, Steven. "New Zealand Launch Record (2009 to present)". Steven Pietrobon's Space Archive. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  39. ^ a b c "Moon Express unveils its roadmap for giant leaps to the lunar surface … and back again". GeekWire. 2017-07-12. Retrieved 2017-08-09.
  40. ^ Mann, Adam (2013-07-18). "The Private Plan to Put a Telescope on the Moon". Wired. Retrieved 2013-07-21.
  41. ^ 'MoonLIGHT' Shines Bright: Moon Express' $24 Million New Science Customer. Nick Azer. May 21, 2015.

Further reading

  • Calandrelli E, Escher A (16 December 2016). "The top 15 events that happened in space in 2016". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2016-12-16.

External links

  • Moon Express official website
  • Brown, Eryn (December 9, 2011). "Shooting for the Moon — to mine it". L.A. Times. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  • Chow, Denise (November 14, 2011). "A 'Mine in the Sky': Moon Express Co-Founder's Lunar Ambitions". Retrieved March 16, 2012.