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Fri, Jul 14, 2017

Moon Express Unveils Expanded Plan To Explore The Solar System

Developing A New Family Of Spacecraft For Low-Cost Space Exploration

Moon Express, one of the competitors in the Google Lunar X Prize program, has unveiled plans to build a new family of spacecraft that it says will reach from the Moon to Mars and beyond. reports that the company's agreement with Rocket Labs, which is developing the Electron booster that will propel the Moon Express lander to the Moon in hopes of claiming the $20 million GLXP award, covers up to five launches. Following the initial mission, Moon Express has scheduled a launch in 2019 that would establish a robotic research base near the lunar south pole. In 2020, Moon Express hopes to mount the first commercial mission to return a lunar sample to Earth.

The central piece of hardware is a single engine lander dubbed MX-1, which will be flown on the GLXP mission. Moon express says it plans to mass-produce the lander and sell it as a lunar explorer, but also serve as the basis for larger and more capable spacecraft, which 1t calls the MX-2, MX-5 and MX-9. They will combine multiple MX-1 units into a single package of two, five and nine spacecraft to boost capacity. The MX-5 and MX-9 will be configured to return samples to Earth.

In a news conference Wednesday, Moon Express CEO and co-founder Bob Richards said these larger spacecraft could be capable of reaching Venus or Mars, or perhaps further into the solar system.

Richards said that the system has the potential to cut the cost of space exploration significantly. The company has estimated that the MX-1 and Electron booster could put the cost of a Moon mission at less than $10 million.

(Images courtesy of Moon Express Facebook page. Top: MX-1. Bottom: MX-9)

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