Moon Express Lunar Robot Mining: Shine On, Harvest Moon

Moon Express is trying to develop commercial lunar landers and robotic lunar mining equipment, hoping to win the Google Lunar X prize.


(Moon Express lunar program video)

The Florida-based company used an event on Capitol Hill to unveil the design of that lander, known as MX-1E, as well as plans for future missions that include larger landers and sample return spacecraft.

That spacecraft, capable of placing up to 30 kilograms of payload onto the lunar surface, is the building block of a “flexible, scalable and innovative exploration architecture that can help us open the moon as a frontier for humanity,” said Moon Express Chief Executive Bob Richards.

Richards, standing next to a full-scale mockup of the MX-1E, said work on that initial spacecraft is going well. “We have flight hardware already,” he said, citing development of the lander’s engine, called PECO, that uses rocket-grade kerosene and high-test hydrogen peroxide propellants. Two of those engines have been built and will soon be undergoing tests.

Science fiction fans have been treated to a variety of descriptions of lunar mining. For example, Ray Cummings' 1930 classic Brigands of the Moon has perhaps the first reference to lunar mining in science fiction.

Moon Express wants to start mining the water on the Moon - so did Robert Heinlein in his 1966 classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which contains very early sfnal references to lunar ice mining. As far as I know, the earliest reference to the idea of ice being present in the floors of polar lunar craters was first suggested by scientists in 1961 by Caltech researchers Kenneth Watson, Bruce C. Murray, and Harrison Brown.

In their 1981 novel Oath of Fealty, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven described using telepresence bulldozers to mine the lunar surface.

For news about other Google Lunar X-Prize competitors, see NASA Project M Robot Avatar On Moon, Lunar Spider-Bot Swarm By Team Italia and JALURO Lunar Robot - 2-Wheeled Open Source.

Via SpaceNews and Moon Express; thanks to Winchell Chung (@nyrath) of Atomic Rockets - the sf writer's tech support for pointing this out.

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