Micro-spacecraft plans to land on moon in 2015
Company, Moon Express says it will be the first
It's been described as a pair of donuts wearing an ice cream cone. In reality, it's a micro-spacecraft set to take to the skies in 2015, land on the moon - in the first "soft" landing on the moon since 1972, scoop up some samples and head back home to earth. The company Moon Express plans to unveil the MX-1 spacecraft at the Autodesk University show in Las Vegas later this week.
The MX-1 vehicle is too small to accommodate a human being. A U.S. spacecraft hasn't made a controlled landing on the moon since Apollo 17 left the lunar surface on Dec. 14, 1972.
The moon dirt that Gene Cernan, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin once trod was rich in titanium, platinum, and other rare elements. Moon Express says they intend to mine the moon.
"We call it the iPhone of space," Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express says. The "microlander" can deliver up to 130 pounds of cargo to the surface of the moon. That handy bottle in your bathroom - hydrogen peroxide, will power the craft. While unusually small, the MX-1 will act as a sample return vehicle or a "space-tug," Richards says.
"It's very small. You and I could put our arms around it," Richards said. It's stripped-down size will allow Moon Express to plan missions for a fraction of what it would cost a superpower, such as the United States or China.
A single stage vehicle that doesn't require booster rockets, unlike most other spacecraft, the MX-1 is meant as a secondary payload, ridding "piggyback" on a satellite launch.
Moon Express plans a survey mission in 2015 and will announce the launch details next year. In 2020, it aims to return samples from the moon.
Made possible through advances in computing power and engineering, it's not a coincidence that the MX-1 will be unveiled at a show thrown by 3D design company Autodesk.
Moon Express is just one of many private companies planning space missions. Tourism, orbiting hotels and more have been planned. Other companies intending to jump on the "moon rush" include Astrobiotic Technology, which plans to mine it. Bigelow Aerospace wants to sell property there, a Japanese firm suggested a solar panel power ring, and China launched the Chang'e 3 lander, which should touch down on the moon in mid-December, the first controlled landing since the Soviet Union's Luna-24 mission in 1976.
What's behind the surge in interest? Overpopulation. "Nine billion. That's how many people will be alive on the Earth as soon as 36 years from now," Dennis Wingo, a space entrepreneur warns. "The moon and beyond is an extension of our earthly society, with vast resources in metals and a place to expand human activity."
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