On Wednesday, private space start-up Moon Express unveiled its plans to land an interlocking team of space crafts on the moon by 2020. Moon Express, founded in 2010, released images and animations of its so-called MX Robotic Explorers, special robots that will be designed for mining and exploration.
Their first craft, the MX-1E, stands 4-and-a-half feet tall and 3 feet wide and will act as a base for other crafts, as it is built to connect with other models in a Lego-like fashion. Moon Express says the R2-D2-sized machine will be able to land up to 66 pounds, hop across the moon, and return to Earth.
The company then plans to build three more robots — the MX-2, MX-5, and MX-9 — after a successful launch of the MX-1E. These vehicles may be used to orbit the moon or carry payloads of minerals. In the future, they may act as deep space probes.
Moon Express will use a newly designed "eco-friendly" engine to build its MX Robotic Explorers. The cost of one MX-1E will be around $10 million, and the company hopes to launch the MX-1E by the end of 2017. Moon Express is gunning for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize with its robot endeavors; for the MX-1E to win, it will have to land on the lunar surface, travel at least 500 meters, and send photos and videos back to Earth.
Even if it doesn't win the Lunar X prize, Moon Express will continue to build the MX Robotic Explorers. The company also plans to work with NASA or commercial ventures to ferry mineral payloads back from the moon.