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7/15/2017 by mdc
Eric Berger reports that after several years of secrecy, a company called Moon Express revealed the scope of its ambitions on Wednesday. And they are considerable. The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successfully larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon.

Perhaps most intriguingly, Moon Express says it is self-funded to begin bringing kilograms of lunar rocks back to Earth within about three years. We absolutely intend to make these samples available globally for scientific research, and make them available to collectors as well, said Bob Richards, one of the company founders, in an interview with Ars.

Successfully demonstrating missions to the lunar surface could pay off in another way for Moon Express, too. Likely sometime this fall, NASA will issue a Request for Proposals from companies to help the agency in its efforts to determine how accessible water is at the lunar poles, and whether it could be easily turned into rocket propellant. If, and yes, this remains a big if, Moon Express has a working architecture by late this year or early 2018, something which no other company or country has, it could turn into a large government contract.

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