A Google-fueled race continues among commercial space startups to launch and land a lunar probe.
Moon Express said Oct. 1 it’s hired Rocket Lab to launch three robotic spacecraft starting in 2017.
Moon Express is one of more than a dozen companies chasing the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition to land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon and send back images. The company was awarded $1 million milestone grant by Google earlier this year after flight-testing a prototype of its lander.
“Our goal is to blaze a trail to the moon to unlock its mysteries and resources so we can improve life on Earth,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said in unveiling the agreement with Rocket Lab at the Space Technology & Investment Forum in San Francisco.
“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,” Moon Express chairman Naveen Jain added.
Rocket Lab will use its Electron rocket system to launch Moon Express’ MX-1 lunar lander. The MX-1 is designed for the delivery of scientific and commercial payloads.
Two of the launches are set for 2017 and one sometime thereafter. The missions will launch either from Rocket Lab’s private launch range in New Zealand or from an unspecified site in the U.S.
“The new contract with Moon Express shows the broad market demand for Rocket Lab’s affordable, high-frequency Electron launch vehicle,” Rocket Lab chief Peter Beck said.
Founded in 2010, Moon Express is based at NASA Ames Research Park in Mountainview, Calif. Rocket Lab was created in 2007 and is headquartered in Los Angeles.
Other companies competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE include Astrobotic Technology. Founded in 2007 in Pittsburgh, Astrobotic aims to use a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to land its probe on the moon in late 2016.