Moon Express raises $20M in Series B-1, fully funds trip to the Moon

Moon Express, a company competing in the Google Lunar X-Prize, has raised $20 million in a Series B-1 round and announced that they’ve now fully financed their maiden mission to the moon. With the latest round of funding, Moon Express has raised over $45 million in private investment from individuals and venture funds including Founders Fund, Collaborative Fund, and Autodesk.

In July of 2016, Moon Express became the first private company in history to receive permission to travel to the moon. The company plans to launch their MX-1E spacecraft to the Moon at the end of 2017 with the goal of winning the $20 million grand prize in the X-Prize competition.

“We now have all the resources in place to shoot for the Moon. Our goal is to expand Earth’s social and economic sphere to the Moon, our largely unexplored eighth continent, and enable a new era of low cost lunar exploration and development for students, scientists, space agencies and commercial interests.” Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express

If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company and the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the moon. The first three entities were all government-funded superpowers from the U.S., USSR and China.

Of course to win that title, Moon Express will need to beat the other X-Prize competitors including SpaceIL from Israel, Team Indus from India (carrying the Japanese team HAKUTO as a payload), and the international team Synergy Moon. Each company has had launch contracts confirmed by X-Prize, a requirement to remain in the competition.

The first company to soft-land on the Moon, travel 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth will win the grand prize of $20 million. There’s also $5 million up for grabs for the company that comes in second.

Perhaps the most challenging of the X-Prize requirements is the deadline. To win the prizes, competitors must complete all tasks by the end of 2017. Although the X-Prize Foundation has pushed the deadline back before.

What makes the Google Lunar X-Prize competition especially unique is that it required participants to obtain 90% of their funding from private sources. In theory, this would encourage profit-driven business plans, kick-starting a wave of lunar-based commercialization.

Moon Express has contracted five rockets from launch provider Rocket Lab USA. A newcomer to the launch industry, Rocket Lab USA has yet to fly their experimental Electron rocket – the same rocket that is contracted to take Moon Express’ MX-1E to the moon. It’s first launch is set for later this month, and if everything goes according to plan, Moon Express will be on their way to the moon before the year is out.

Multiple rocket contracts afford Moon Express multiple attempts to reach their destination in the event of a failure (or failures). The plan is for Rocket Lab USA’s Electron rocket to bring MX-1E into orbit around the Earth. From there, MX-1E will separate from the rocket and fire its own rocket engines to travel to the Moon.

After a four-day journey, MX-1E will land on the lunar surface. While other teams have developed rovers to complete the X-Prize requirement to move 500 meters across the lunar surface, MX-1E will fire thrusters to “hop” to a location 500 meters away.

Moon Express lander on moon

Regardless of how the X-Prize competition turns out, Moon Express will work to make a business out of going to the moon. They’re planning a series of lunar robotic missions with the long term goal of prospecting and harvesting resources including lunar water which can be converted into rocket fuel.

“We know that there are trillions of dollars of precious resources on the Moon, and we can now seek to unlock those resources with exponential technologies for the benefit of all of humanity, enabling entrepreneurs to do what only superpowers have done before.” Naveen Jain, co-founder and Chairman of Moon Express.

With their $45 million of private funding, Moon Express will fund company operations, product testing and development as well as launch costs. Moon Express has already started making renovations to Space Launch Complexes 17 and 18 at Cape Canaveral where the company will conduct spacecraft testing and operations working up to their launch later this year.