December 19, 2013 – The Lunar XPrize competition is heating up. Early in December Moon Express announced to an audience of 10,000 their MX-1 robotic spacecraft.
Backed by Autodesk, the computer-aided-design software company, Moon Express is out to win the Google-sponsored Lunar XPrize with its deadline of end of year 2015 to safely land on the Moon. The lander must perform an additional task. It has to travel 500 meters from the landing site and send back two “Mooncasts” to Earth. $40 million is up for grabs as well as bonus cash prizes for other feats including finding lunar artifacts and surviving through the two-week lunar night.
Moon Express is headquartered in Mountain View, California. Its robotic spacecraft will be solar-powered using hydrogen peroxide (the stuff you put on your face as an astringent) as rocket fuel. Slightly more powerful than the hydrogen peroxide you buy in bottles at the drugstore, the choice of fuel is deliberate because the MX-1 can be refueled from the lunar surface by synthesizing the fuel using elements commonly found there.
The rocket motor is dual mode burning kerosene for translunar insertion, landings and liftoff from the Moon. The SpaceX Falcon 9 would be the launch vehicle.
MX-1 is toroidal in shape and about the size of a large coffee table. It has been designed for multiple applications, so that it not only can land on the lunar surface, but also be used for space-based applications such as servicing and refueling other satellites, acting as a space tug, cleaning up space junk, carrying cubesats to orbit and monitoring the presence of near-Earth asteroids as well as the Earth’s surface . The developers call the MX-1 the iPhone of space with many of its applications being developed from members of the Autodesk community.
Thirty-three teams are vying for the $40 million Lunar XPrize. You can learn more about them by visiting the Google website.