Moon Express, the first private company in history to receive government permission to travel beyond Earth's orbit, announced that it raised another $20 million in private equity financing to fund its maiden lunar mission to take place in late 2017. This brings the total amount of private investment to $45 million from investors that include Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, Collaborative Fund and Autodesk.
What may have added impetus to investor interest in Moon Express is President Trump's picks for the NASA transition team Charles Miller and Chris Shank and the leading candidate to become the next NASA administrator, GOP Rep. Jim Bridenstine. All support commercial space ventures and manned exploration including lunar missions.
If successful, the new MX-1 lunar lander from Moon Express would not only win the $20 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, it would also help jump-start a new era of space exploration. Up until now, only government-funded missions from the United States, China and Russia have landed on the moon.
Last year the U.S. government made a historic ruling to allow the company to engage in peaceful commercial lunar exploration and discovery following consultations with the FAA, White House, State Department and NASA.
The company's challenge now is to meet the XPRIZE requirement: Make a soft landing on the moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. All tasks must be done before the end of this year.
According to co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain, "Moon Express now has all the capital it needs to land its small robotic spacecraft on the surface of the moon in November or December of 2017." The company's goal is twofold: 1) mine the moon for valuable resources, such as Helium-3, gold, platinum group metals, rare earth metals and water; and 2) help researchers develop human space colonies for future generations.
The ability to mine Helium-3 could have a tremendous impact on Earth and the environment. Helium-3 is a clean, non-radioactive energy source that could potentially power nuclear fusion reactors. Theoretically, a relatively small amount could produce enough clean fuel to power entire industries, if not the entire planet. It's for this reason that the Chinese have also announced plans to mine Helium-3 on the moon.
Another draw is tapping water on the moon's surface. Hydrogen and oxygen can then be separated to create rocket fuel for deep-space missions to Mars and beyond. Essentially, the moon can serve as a fueling station for spacecraft.