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Moon Express to develop SLC-36 for MX-1 lunar lander

Moon Express CEO and Co-Founder Bob Richards discusses plans for Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 36 photo credit Jason Rhian SpaceFlight Insider

Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards announced plans to establish a permanent presence for Moon Express on the Space Coast. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – An Agreement announced by commercial space company Moon Express means that a capital investment  estimated at approximately $500,000 along with an additional 25-50 new jobs for Florida’s Space Coast. The company expects that investments could grow to millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs. Perhaps of greater significance is the fact that the commercial firm has made steady progress toward landing their lander on the surface of the Moon and, in so doing, claim the $20 million prize under the Google Lunar X-PRIZE (GLXP).

Moon Express and Space Florida announced today, Jan. 22, that an agreement for Moon Express to take control of Space Launch Complex 36 (SLC-36) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida had been signed. Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said the company will initially spend half a million dollars to refurbish the 133-acre facility that will initially employ 25-50 people to design and test their robotic lunar lander, with expectations the investments could grow to millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.

Moon Express co-founder Bob Richards

Moon Express CEO Bob Richards discusses plans for SLC36 and shows the block house where Werner Von Braun used periscopes to watch the 1966 launch of Surveyor 1 to the moon. Photo Credit: Bill Jelen / SpaceFlight Insider

The pad has a domed blockhouse that Richards has dubbed “Moon Mountain.” This building, with 8 foot (2.3 meter) thick concrete walls and the original periscopes that Werner Von Braun used to watch the Surveyor 1 mission launch a lander to the moon in 1966. Fifty years later, in 2016, Moon Express hopes to be the first commercial company to land their robotic lander on surface of the Moon. Moon Express is one of two finalists selected for the Landing System Terrestrial Milestone Prize of the $30 million Google Lunar X-PRIZE competition and one of three companies chosen by NASA under the space agency’s Lunar CATALYST ( Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown) program.

Renovations Planned

The domed blockhouse may one day house a museum and will require the most renovations. Other existing buildings at the pad are, according to Richards, move-in ready. The company will initially invest a half million dollars in renovations to the historic site, will include a lunar hazard field, flight facility, administrative and engineering offices, and a 20-foot-tall (6 meter) highbay structure which will be used to assemble their lander test vehicles and spacecraft. Richards quipped that he hopes to rename the road to SLC-36 as the “Moon Expressway.”

The doors to the new Moon Express offices at Space Launch Complex 36. Photo Credit: Moon Express

The doors to the new Moon Express offices at Space Launch Complex 36. Photo Credit: Moon Express

Space Coast Employment

Richards detailed how, Moon Express was born in Silicon Valley where the rapid design, build and test mindset can lead to quick results. Establishing a permanent presence at Cape Canaveral creates a nexus between a Silicon Valley mindset with a Space Coast know-how. Richards noted, “The people skills and resources in the Space Coast are unmatched anywhere on the planet.”

Richards’ organization has hopes that hundreds of new jobs will be located at SLC 36 over the course of the next five years.

We Are Hitchhikers

The Moon Express lander is designed to reach the Moon’s surface from a geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). The lander will hitch a ride as a secondary payload on a commercial rocket launch such as is used for a geostationary satellite. As such, the 2 foot (0.61 meter) tall by 5 foot (1.52 meter) wide lander is designed to launch: “on any day on any trajectory” and still be able to reach the Moon. Richards stated that he would prefer a lunar injection trajectory, where his lander will be able to carry a payload of approximately 132 pounds (60 kilograms) and make it to the Moon in about 3-4 days. However, even if Moon Express hitches a ride with a satellite destined for a GTO-Earth orbit, the company says their spacecraft / lander duo can traverse a path a million miles (1,660,000 kilometers) beyond the Earth and fall back to the Moon, a trip taking about 3 to 4 months. In this configuration, the payload is reduced to 66 pounds (33 kilograms) from the 132 pounds (60 kilograms) possible with a direct lunar trajectory.

Moon-Express-CEO-Bob-Richards-posted-on-SpaceFlight Insider

Richards detailed how this latest initiative will mean some 25-50 new jobs to Florida’s Space Coast. Photo Credit: Bill Jelen / SpaceFlight Insider

When asked about SpaceX’s recent announcement to build a 4000-satellite constellation of Internet satellites, Richards noted that SpaceX carved out the path to GTO. As Moon Express is actively looking to spend approximately $10 million to get manifested as a secondary payload on a mission scheduled to take flight in 2016, the possibility of hundreds of launches for the Internet satellite constellation provides many more opportunities to hitch a ride into the black of space. Richards noted his gratitude, stating, “Thank you Elon.”

Water is the Oil of the Solar System

The Moon Express lander is powered by a 90 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide. The discovery of water on the polar surface of the Moon is important to Moon Express’ desire to mine rare materials from the lunar surface and to return them to Earth. Water, of course, is H2O. Hydrogen peroxide is H2O2. The water on the lunar surface provides the chemical elements necessary to manufacture hydrogen peroxide. The NewSpace company has plans to eventually have a lander that is able to land on the Moon, then convert lunar water to hydrogen peroxide for a return trip back to Earth. Bob Richards noted that, in the future, “Water will be the oil of the Solar System.”


The announcement made today represents a partnership between Space Florida, under the watchful eye of the 45th Space Wing. The company will receive F-DOT matching funds for the project. The Google Lunar X-PRIZE competitor has continuously developed infrastructure, tested out key systems and has entered into agreements, similar to this one, to enable them to achieve this objective. At present, Moon Express is considered to be one of two frontrunners under the GLXP.

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider with elements provided by Moon Express


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Anytime we hear news about jobs coming to Kennedy or Cape Canaveral is good news.

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