Moon Express details plans to mine the Moon – an annotated infographic

Moon Express hopes to become the first private spaceflight company to send a robotic lander to the moon, scoop up some moon dust, load it into a small return vehicle and send it back to Earth.

In one small step for space business, Moon Express has won US regulatory approval — under the 104-nation Outer Space Treaty — to become the first private company to fly to the Moon.

At the heart of the company’s plans is a single-stage spacecraft, similar in size and shape to the R2-D2 droid from Star Wars, but a little bigger.

Launched from New Zealand, as the payload on Rocket Lab’s Electron launcher, the MX-1’s PECO rocket engine uses highly refined kerosene fuel (RP-1) which is oxidised using hydrogen peroxide.

The PECO engine will serve as the common core for all the planned MX vehicles, including the MX-9 which will launch in 2020 to collect — and return to Earth — the first-ever privately-owned lunar samples.

MX-9 will search in areas rich in ancient volcanic deposits for evidence of water. Nearly a decade ago, tiny amounts of water, just 0.05 per cent water by weight, were detected in volcanic glass beads brought back from the surface of the Moon by Apollo 15 and 17.

Recent data from India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter suggests that the pyroclastic flows of ancient lava that left those beads could provide a source of water to support a lunar base.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

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