Moon Express, or MoonEx, is a privately held early stage company formed by a group of Silicon Valley and space entrepreneurs, with the goal of winning the Google Lunar X Prize, and ultimately mining the Moon for resources of economic value.
In August 2010, Naveen Jain, Barney Pell and Robert D. Richards, 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 including elements that are rare on the earth, including Niobium, Yttrium and Dysprosium".
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.
On September 11, 2011, Moon Express announced that it had 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 July 2012, Moon Express announced that it will work with International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) to put a shoebox-sized astronomical telescope on the Moon.
As of November 2012[update], MoonEx has 20 employees, plans to stage a public demonstration in the fall of 2013, and has announced that they will be ready to land on the Moon by early 2015.
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 new agreement makes Tim Pickens, the former lead of the RCSP team, the Chief Propulsion Engineer for MoonEx.
Moon Express has received a NASA contract for data purchase that could be worth up to US$10,000,000. Moon Express is also partnered with NASA through a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement that allowed Moon Express to invest over $500K into the commercialization of technology developed by NASA.
Legal regime for lunar resource extraction
Although the requisite legal regime to enable mining of lunar resources is not fully in place, major world space agencies, including NASA, have put in place a coordination framework for encouraging the type of commercial activity proposed by Moon Express.
"Entrepreneurs are thinking about further commercial expansion into space. As space exploration extends to the Moon and Mars, there will be potential opportunities for companies to provide ... space-based resource extraction and processing capabilities. For example, Moon rocks are rich in oxygen that might be exploited to provide life support systems for lunar operations. Liquid oxygen can also be used as a rocket propellant – and it might be more economical to manufacture it in space than to lift it off the Earth. Mining the Moon might also yield titanium – a strong but light metal favoured for high-end aerospace applications. Finally, the Moon’s known abundance of Helium-3 could prove valuable if fusion reactors ever become feasible in the future.
"For business to be confident about investing, it needs the certainty of a long-term commitment to space exploration, the opportunity to introduce its ideas into government thinking, and the rule of law. This means common understanding on such difficult issues as property rights and technology transfer. The Coordination Mechanism foreseen as part of the Global Exploration Strategy will provide a forum to discuss these important issues."
The views of Moon Express on the legal and political realities of lunar resource utilization were articulated in an April 2011 Los Angeles Times article where Naveen Jain was interviewed:
The idea of exploiting the moon's resources for private gain is not likely to be a concern, Jain said. The United States, he said, 'has already brought back moon rocks to our country without any other country fighting war over it.' 'I also think that the moon will be treated no differently than the international water in our oceans,' he added. 'In this case, no one really owns the water but any company or country can mine the resources … from the international water as long as they follow certain safety/moral guidelines.' Jain also noted that 'there is strong legal precedent and consensus of 'finders keepers' for resources that are liberated through private investment, and the same will be true on the moon. You don't have to own land to have ownership of resources you unlock from it. Moon Express will use existing precedents of peaceful presence and exploration set by the U.S. government 40 years ago.'
Google Lunar X Prize
The company is also a competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize. There are 29 groups competing for the Google Lunar X Prize. This prize will award $20 million to the first team to put a lander on the moon and deliver data, images and video from the landing site and 500 meters away by December 2015. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, ratified by 100 nations, including the United States, forbids countries from claiming sovereignty over any part of the moon, but does not prevent private companies from building or staking claims on the moon. Mining could fall under similar legal parameters as fishing in international waters.
- 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."
- Brown, Eryn (December 9, 2011). "Shooting for the moon — to mine it". L.A. Times. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
- Chow, Denise. "A 'Mine in the Sky': Moon Express Co-Founder's Lunar Ambitions". Space.com. Retrieved March 16, 2012.
- Caulfield, Brian. "Naveen Jain: 'Think Of The Moon As Just Another Continent'". Forbes. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
- "Moon Express Announces First Successful Flight Test of Lunar Lander System Developed With NASA Partnership". Moon Express. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
- Knafo, Saki (July 22, 2011). "The New Space Biz: Companies Seek Cash In The Cosmos". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 16, 2011.
- "Moving the heaven to get some rare earth". Chennai, India: The Hindu. June 2, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
- "Moon Express rolls out new lab for lunar robotics". MF Monitor. September 11, 2011. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
- Sutherland, Paul. "Moon Express to fly lunar telescope". Sen.com. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
- Lindsey, Clark (2012-12-20). "MoonEx Acquires RCSP of Dynetics". NewSpace Watch. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
- Hennigan, W.J. (2011-04-08). "MoonEx aims to scour moon for rare materials". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-04-10.
- Moon, Mars, Asteroids: Where to Go First for Resources? SSI-TV video archive, recorded on November 9, 2010, 74:37, panel discussion held during the Space Studies Institute’s Space Manufacturing 14 conference in California. "Moderated by tech investor Esther Dyson, the discussion included: Prof. Michael A'Hearn, University of Maryland, Dept. of Astronomy, Prof. Greg Baiden, Penguin Automated Systems, Mark Sonter, Asteroid Enterprises Pty Ltd, Prof. John S. Lewis, Space Studies Institute, Dr. Paul Spudis, Lunar and Planetary Institute, and Jeff Greason, XCOR Aerospace."
- The Global Exploration Strategy: the Framework for Coordination, ASI (Italy), BNSC (United Kingdom), CNES (France), CNSA (China), CSA (Canada), CSIRO (Australia), DLR (Germany), ESA (European Space Agency), ISRO (India), JAXA (Japan), KARI (Republic of Korea), NASA (United States of America), NSAU (Ukraine), Roscosmos (Russia), section 3 "Theme 3: Economic Expansion", pp. 10-12, May 2007, accessed 2011-01-05.
- "Intelius’ Naveen Jain Turns to Moon Mining, Philanthropy". IndiaWest.com. May 9, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
- Chang, Kenneth (July 21, 2011). "Race to the Moon Heats Up for Private Firms". The New York Times. "The Outer Space Treaty of 1967, ratified by 100 nations, bars countries from claiming sovereignty over any part of the Moon, but does not prevent private companies from setting up shop. As for mining the Moon, it could fall under similar legal parameters as fishing in international waters."