Moon Express, a California-based aerospace company co-founded by Indian-American billionaire Naveen Jain, is planning to send its first robotic spacecraft to the moon in 2016 as part of the Lunar Mission envisioned by NASA.
Moon Express has tested its prototype of a lunar lander early this year and is reckoning on a series of other tests before sending its lander to the moon next year, Jain told NBC News.
The 2016 robotics mission or the first lander is a one-way trip, as it is to measure up landing capacity on the moon and not to return, he said.
“The purpose is to show that for the first time, a company has developed the technology to land softly on the moon,” Jain was quoted as saying. “Landing on the moon is not the hard part. Landing softly is the hard part.”
In about 15 to 20 years, Jain hopes a day when the moon is used as a sort space station enabling easier travel for exploration to other planets.
After the 2016 mission, more spacecraft will be sent to the moon to bring back precious metals, minerals and even moon rocks to Earth. “Today, people look at diamonds as this rare thing on Earth,” Jain said. “Imagine telling someone you love her by giving her the moon.”
Moon Express conducted its tests with NASA support under the Lunar Initiative – Catalyst – designed to spur new commercial US capabilities to reach the moon and tap its resources.
“Clearly, NASA has an amazing amount of expertise when it comes to getting to the moon, and it wants to pass that knowledge on to a company like ours that has the best chance of being successful,” Jain was quoted as saying.
Jain, who also founded Internet companies Infospace and Intelius, said the moon holds precious metals and rare minerals. It has recently signed an agreement to take over Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Launchpad for its future launches.
The launchpad was home to NASA’s Atlas-Centaur rocket programme and its Surveyor moon landers. “We went to the moon 50 years ago, yet today we have more computing power with our iPhones than the computers that sent men into space,” he told NBC.
Moon Express is among the space firms vying for the Google Lunar X Prize – a competition organized by the X Prize Foundation and sponsored by Google – to spur privately funded space programs.
It will award $30 million to the first company that lands a commercial spacecraft on the moon, travels 500 metres across its surface and sends high-definition images and video back to Earth – all before the end of 2016.
In January, Moon Express was awarded a $1 million milestone prize from Google for being the only company in the competition so far to test a prototype of its lander.