Silicon Valley Start-Up Plans to Mine the Moon's Surface for Google's Lunar XPrize

Thursday, 19 March 2015 - 10:37AM
NASA
Technology
Moon
Thursday, 19 March 2015 - 10:37AM
Silicon Valley Start-Up Plans to Mine the Moon's Surface for Google's Lunar XPrize
By the end of 2016, a small Silicon Valley start-up called Moon Express aims to achieve a soft landing on the moon, and then mine the surface for natural resources. If they are successful, they will win a grand prize of $20 million as part of Google's Lunar XPrize competition.



Moon Express plans to land their new MX-1 lunar lander, a tiny robotic spacecraft approximately the size of a white water raft, on the moon in a soft landing. This feat has never been accomplished by a private enterprise; rather, the only successful moon landings have been achieved by national organizations from the United States, Russia, and China. To be fair, they will have help, as they recently formed a public-private partnership with NASA, which will grant them access to NASA's experts and their facilities. But it will still be a distinctly private affair, as according to the contest rules, they can't receive more than 10% government funding.

Once they land on the moon, they plan to mine the moon for natural resources, which is made possibly by the FAA's recent ruling in favor of commercializing the moon. "We have mapped every inch of the moon, both topographically and mineralogically," Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain told Washington Post. From this data, mostly collected by NASA, Moon Express has identified four natural resources that can be found on the moon's surface: lunar rocks, platinum group metals, rare earth elements, and Helium-3.

While some of these minerals, particularly moon rocks, may be useful in more general geological research, Helium-3 could have a more immediate and possibly world-changing impact, as some scientists have theorized that it could be the answer to the world's energy crisis. Helium-3 is a non-radioactive energy source that could possibly power nuclear fusion reactors. It hasn't been used for clean energy thus far because only trace amounts can be found on Earth, but NASA's mineralogical studies show that it may be plentiful on the moon.

There is also the potential to find lunar water, which Jain calls the "oil of the space economy." Not only would this be exciting for astrobiologists looking for extraterrestrial life, but it would leave room for the possibility of using the hydrogen in water as a fuel source for rockets. As a result, the moon could serve as a "rest stop" of sorts for ventures into deep space, allowing spaceships making long trips to re-fuel.

Jain believes that if Moon Express manages to land on the moon in the next year, it will open doors for other companies to do the same, and will make commercial space exploration much more normative. "We are really at a cusp right now, space is going to become accessible for the first time. Exponential technologies are all coming together now."
Science
Space
NASA
Technology
Moon

Load Comments