By almost every measure Moon Express is the front runner for the Google Lunar XPrize Moon Race 2.0. The company has become the first private group to get government permission to land on the lunar surface. It has amassed the necessary funding to mount a lunar expedition. Now, all it has to do is to make sure it has a viable launch vehicle. Rocket Lab, a company based in New Zealand, is preparing to test its Electron launch vehicle upon which Moon Express hopes to propel its lunar lander over a quarter of a million miles to the moon’s surface.
Rocket Lab intends to start testing the Electron from a launch facility on the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island of New Zealand’s east coast. It plans to complete three test flights before starting to service commercial customers of which Moon Express is one, according to the New Zealand Herald.
The Electron is a two stage rocket built of carbon composite materials. It has nine kerosene/liquid oxygen fueled Rutherford engines in the first stage and one designed to work in a vacuum in the second stage. The Rutherford engine is entirely built of 3D printed parts and is electrically powered. The Electron is intended to launch a 130 kilogram payload into a 500 kilometer sun synchronous orbit for a price of $4.9 million.
The company hopes to be able to achieve a flight rate of 100 a year, unprecedented in the #Space launch business. Moon Express is not the first commercial customer for Rocket Lab. But hopes to ride an Electron Rocket to the moon before the end of 2017.
Eventually Moon Express hopes to become the first lunar mining company, exploiting the moon for water, helium 3, and platinum group metals. A win of the Google Lunar XPrize or just landing on the moon will gain for the company a great deal of credibility in a line of business that just a year or so ago was considered science fiction. Space mining has achieved some measure of respectability, however, and is being discussed in business and political circles with lots of seriousness. It has the potential to change the world’s economy and expand human civilization beyond this planet.