Spaceflight Insider

Moon Express launch contract verified for XPRIZE competition

Rocket Lab Electron photo credit Rocket Lab posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Rocket Lab

Moon Express has become the second competitor to have their launch contract officially verified by the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million dollar competition. The primary goal of the contest is to land a privately funded unmanned spacecraft onto the surface of the Moon before Dec. 31 of 2017.

“We are extremely proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of Moon Express’s launch contract,” said Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE. “Having multiple teams attempting actual missions to the Moon is a hallmark of a genuine competition. Verified launch contracts are the ‘bona fides’ that teams need to demonstrate that they are in it to win it. Moon Express’ accomplishment has brought XPRIZE closer to the Moon.”

“We applaud Google and XPRIZE for setting up such a visionary competition, and we’ve got our eyes on the prize,” said Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards. “Our long-term goal is to unlock lunar resources for the benefit of humanity, and we are thrilled to have our contract in place with Rocket Lab allowing us to provide low-cost missions to the Moon for science and commerce.”

Moon Express signed a contract with Rocket Lab, a Los Angeles-based launch firm, for three flights. Each of these flights will carry the Moon Express MX-1E lunar lander aboard the Electron rocket, launching either from New Zealand or the United States.

Rocket Lab Electron rocket posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: Rocket Lab

Moon Express Co-Founder and Chairman Naveen Jain added: “Moon Express is building disruptive technologies that will forever change the cost of access to space, including the asteroids and even the moons of Mars. We are now taking advantage of exponential technology like 3-D printing and inexpensive sensors to collapse the capital needed to access the Moon. Coupling these technological advancements with today’s news about our Rocket Lab launch contract is a huge step forward for us in opening whole new markets for space exploration.”

The MX-1E lunar lander spacecraft is a self-contained vehicle capable of reaching the lunar surface from geosynchronous transfer orbit. Due to the delta-v required for attaining a landing, there are strong requirements of the propulsion system. To achieve a landing, the 1,320 pound (600 kg) spacecraft will need to provide a delta-v of 7,160 mph or 3.2 km/sec. Over three-quarters of the spacecraft’s mass is fuel.

Because the MX-1E is such a small craft, it could be carried as a secondary payload being co-launched with a larger satellite if needed; however, it is intended at the primary payload for Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

The Electron is a carbon-composite launch vehicle, eschewing traditional aluminum alloys for more exotic but lighter weight materials. The vehicle stands 59 feet (18 m) tall with a three foot (1 m) diameter. It has a mass of more than 10 metric tons at liftoff. Rocket Lab believes that the cost savings of using composites, combined with a vertical integration model, will lower launch costs to less than $5 million per flight. For smaller payload launches such at the MX-1E, this could be a potential game changer for getting a product to orbit. Rocket Lab currently has an order for 30 launches on its manifest.

The first team to have their launch contract verified was Israeli-based SpaceIL. They signed a contract with SpaceX for the launch of their lunar lander in October. Their landing attempt is scheduled for the second half of 2017. The remaining 14 XPRIZE teams have until Dec. 31, 2016, to have their launch contracts verified in order to remain in the competition.

Video courtesy of Moon Express


Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

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