(Sen) - Moon Express Inc, a company set up to explore and mine the Moon for precious resources, has acquired Next Giant Leap to advance its plans to be the first company to land a spacecraft on Earth's natural satellite.
The Next Giant Leap acquisition gives Moon Express access to additional technology and scientists, as well as the benefit of several strategic partnerships with companies such as Sierra Nevada Corporation, The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, MIT Space Systems Laboratory, Aurora Flight Services, Jolted Media Group, The Center for Space Entrepreneurship (eSpace) and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.
The company plans to send its first robotic lander to the Moon in late 2014, to be launched atop of either SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket or other commercial launch vehicle.
The acquisition is a further example of the rapid development of the privately funded business which was only set up in 2010 and which is already generating revenue under an agreement it has with NASA to supply data that the US space agency hopes will assist it with future exploration missions.
Michael Joyce, Next Giant Leap founder, commented: “Next Giant Leap and its partners have made remarkable technical progress. We are proud to be able to offer that value in support of the vision and resources of Moon Express that continue our dreams toward the Moon.”
“There are many synergies between our companies,” said Moon Express Co-founder and CEO Dr Robert (Bob) Richards. “We are all stronger together and we look forward to carrying on the innovation and vision of the Next Giant Leap founders and partners.”
The acquisition of Next Giant Leap (NGL) also boosts Moon Express's chances in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP). Acquiring NGL takes out a rival team from the competition whilst bolstering the resources of the Moon Express entry. NGL's team entry will now be withdrawn with all the effort being channelled into the enlarged Moon Express mission.
Richards conceived a commercial lunar strategy before the Google Lunar X PRIZE but entered the competition with his first lunar business start-up because the objectives line up with the his ambitions and the multi-million dollar prizes would provide additional funding for his future plans.
Richards told Sen: "Moon Express is a commercial lunar exploration company that applauds but is not dependent on the Google Lunar X PRIZE or any single customer in its business model. Our short term goal is to have growing profitable operations as a payload and data delivery service, with a longer term goal of exploring the Moon from an entrepreneurial perspective for planetary resources of value to Earth and our future in space."
The privately funded company is already generating revenue from supplying data to NASA, and sees its short term revenue being derived from payload customers and the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
NASA is working in partnership with Moon Express and other businesses for "Moon 2.0", a new generation of lunar exploration being planned by private companies as well as space agencies. NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program enables the space agency to buy data from commercial operations that are developing lunar lander technologies. In October 2010 NASA announced it had awarded six companies - including Moon Express and NGL - contracts to purchase data under its ILDD program. NASA's interest is in gathering information on the new technologies being developed, such as system testing and integration, launch, in-space manoeuvers, braking burns and lunar landing. NASA plans to use such data to develop future lander systems necessary to execute human and robotic missions to the moon, near-Earth asteroids or other solar system destinations.
Moon Express and NGL were each beneficiaries of the ILDD contracts, each of which is capable of generating up to $10m, depending on the data supplied. The enlarged Moon Express will now have the ability to earn up to $20m from the NASA ILDD contracts.
In December 2010 NASA's ILDD office announced it had agreed to purchase data from three companies at $0.5m each, including Moon Express. Under the award the company will have to prove a critical technical component of a lunar lander is ready for spaceflight.
On April 23, 2012, Moon Express announced it had delivered a mission design package to NASA under the ILDD, providing NASA with details of its lunar robotic missions and plans to mine the Moon for precious metals and water.
In addition to its ILDD contract to supply data to NASA, the company has also signed a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement with NASA for the development of the Moon Express lunar lander. Whilst the company will earn revenue from its ILDD agreement, under the Space Act Agreement Moon Express can purchase technical assistance and technology from NASA.
With its acquisition of NGL and its partnership with NASA, Moon Express is moving quickly toward its lunar exploration goals.
Artist impression of the Moon Express Lander which weighs just under 90kg and which could land on the Moon in 2014. Credit: Moon Express
The Google Lunar X PRIZE is the largest incentive prize in history - a reflection of the vast technological and financial challenges of landing a spacecraft on the Moon. First prize of $20 million will be awarded to the first company to land a robotic rover on the Moon, travel 500 metres and transmit video, images and data back to Earth.
Although the NGL acquisition removes a competitor there are still 24 other teams competing for the $30m prize pot. The runner-up gets $5 million and the remaining $5m prize money will be made available to teams that go beyond the basic requirements – such as travelling five kilometres (three miles), capturing images of relics of the Apollo programme, verifying the presence of water, or surviving a lunar night. But there is a time limit. Whoever makes it to the Moon must do so by the end of 2015 when the prize fund expires.
Moon Express was founded in 2010 by Dr. Robert (Bob) Richards, Naveen Jain, and Dr Barney Pell and is based at the NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley.