A private commercial space company headquartered in California recently announced it has signed an agreement to use the historic Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The agreement leads to an immediate creation of about 25-50 new jobs, with the potential for hundreds of direct/indirect new jobs over the next five years. A number of robotic spacecraft will be launched to the Moon for exploration and commercial development under the company known as Moon Express, or MoonEx.
The agreement, signed Jan. 22, allows Moon Express to begin using SLC-36 for spacecraft development and flight operations this year. The agreement also permits Moon Express and the state of Florida to invest in the refurbishment of the launch site. Moon Express reported in a press release that the company plans to make an initial capital investment of up to $500,000 into the iconic launch pad.
“This historic site, from which U.S. lunar exploration began, is beginning a new mission as a commercial facility that will help take us back to the Moon,” said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. “We are proud to partner with Moon Express on the development of SLC-36 and a new generation of exploration technologies in Florida.”
Space Florida is the state’s aerospace economic development agency that aims to attract, retain, and expand businesses that create economic opportunities within the state. With a successful 50+ years of space launches from the state, Space Florida believes that Florida is the perfect destination for the commercial space industry. The workforce, infrastructure, and supply chain in Florida prove it and private companies like Moon Express are already jumping at the opportunity.
Moon Express has been undergoing flight tests of their MTV-1X lunar lander at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility. The company is a contender and recognized leader in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to land a privately funded robot on the Moon. The MTV-1X vehicle is a terrestrial test vehicle of the company’s MX-1 spacecraft design. Moon Express describes it as a “compact donut-shaped green lunar lander design that uses solar energy for power and hydrogen peroxide as a fuel.” The exhaust from the rocket is invisible super-heated steam that is eco-friendly and only visible during warm up, or “burp,” sequences prior to ignition of the main engine.
In December 2014, the Moon Express engineering team successfully tested out the design characteristics of the lunar lander design. It performed ideally with solid propulsion performance and highly stable attitude control. Flight profile of the spacecraft’s landing and mobility capabilities was confirmed to be consistent with Moon Express’ risk reduction goals and the requirements of the Google Lunar XPRIZE. The testing was performed in partnership with NASA, under the Lunar CATALYST program, and as a way for the company to test out specific technologies in order to win the Lander and Mobility Terrestrial Milestones Prizes.
The company was selected to compete for a third prize, the Imaging Prize, with the winners announced Monday, Jan. 26. This is an optional part of the XPRIZE competition, with prizes totaling up to $6 million for performing tests and analysis on hardware and software crucial to overcoming the technical risks in the areas of mobility, imaging, and lander systems. Besides Moon Express, there are four other Milestone Prize Finalists, and one of them, Astrobotic, already claimed two of the 11 prizes.
Moon Express’s half-million-dollar investment into SLC-36 is anticipated to turn into millions, and some of the money may become eligible for reimbursement through the Florida Department of Transportation matching funds program. The launch complex was once used for Atlas launches that spanned from 1962 through 2005, totaling at 145 launches. The complex was retired in 2007 and handed off to Space Florida in March 2010, when the USAF 45th Space Wing issued Real Property Licenses to the agency under a plan to make the historic launch complex available to commercial space companies. The complex was once used for launches that sent robots and spacecrafts to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and other destinations in the Solar System.
“We are honored to have an opportunity to establish permanent operations at Cape Canaveral SLC-36, at the place where the U.S. first went to the Moon,” said Bob Richards, Moon Express co-founder and CEO. “The Moon is rising again in Florida thanks to the unequivocal support of Space Florida, NASA, and the USAF 45th Space Wing in helping us create a home for manufacturing, integrating, and testing our lunar lander test vehicles and spacecraft.”
Moon Express is motivated to explore the Moon and its abundance of valuable resources. These resources include platinum group metals, rare Earth elements, Helium-3, and moon rocks. The company’s ambitious vision also extends to the development of spacecraft designed for cost-effective access to space beyond Earth orbit. New advancements in technology is making it possible for private enterprises, like Moon Express, to pursue courageous missions to the Moon without the “unlimited budgets of a super power.” Moon Express aims to develop the world’s first private lunar lander, essential to unlocking key information and useful resources that will help us as we evolve into a space-faring species.
Moon Express was founded by Dr. Bob Richards, Naveen Jain, and Dr. Barney Pell in August 2010. NASA selected the company for its $30 million Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program and awarded them with a contract up to $10 million. The privately funded commercial space company is working hard to provide lunar transportation and data services for both government and commercial customers. The company states that their “MX”-family of single stage robotic spacecraft and landers are capable of reaching the lunar surface from Earth orbit on direct or low-energy trajectories. Their first technology demonstrator mission is planned for 2015, leading the way for a series of ongoing lunar missions centered on science, exploration, and trade.
Moon Express is headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Park in Mountain View, Calif. All spacecraft development and flight test operations under Moon Express will take place at SLC-36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Brevard County, Fla.