Moon Express Makes History as First Company to Demonstrate a Commercial Lunar Lander

Google awards Moon Express $1M for historic commercial lunar lander achievement

Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) has been awarded $1M by Google Lunar XPRIZE for its recent lander test flights, taking home the only Lander System milestone prize awarded for a full lander system demonstration. The tests were conducted at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, utilizing a test range located at the north end of the Shuttle Landing Facility.

The award announcements were made last evening at a private ceremony held at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, CA, which was attended by officials from Google and the XPRIZE Foundation.

“Moon Express has made singular progress in the Landing Milestone Prize category,” said Robert K. Weiss, vice chairman and president, XPRIZE. “They were the only team to flight test a prototype of their lander. This is an essential step in the development of extra planetary spacecraft. Their innovative approach also utilizes a very compact spacecraft structure allowing for greater secondary launch opportunities.”

Google (GOOGL) has been very active in space lately, including an acquisition of satellite imaging firm Skybox Imaging, and recent investment of $1B into SpaceX, a launch and space services company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk.

Google’s backing of the largest international incentive based prize of all time aims to open a new era of lunar travel by vastly decreasing the cost of access to the Moon and space. “When the original Ansari X Prize was launched it was considered unimaginable that private individuals could commercially venture into space, and yet that was accomplished,” said Google co-founder Sergey Brin on the launch of the lunar prize in 2007. “So now, we are here today, embarking upon this great adventure of having a nongovernmental, commercial organization return to the Moon and explore.”

“I am so proud of Moon Express as the only team in the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to win a $1M award for demonstrating a working lander,” said Naveen Jain, Moon Express co-founder and executive chairman. “Our engineering team took on the hardest challenge possible and became the first privately funded company to build and flight test a lunar lander architecture designed to land on the Moon.”

Moon Express first demonstrated its guidance, navigation, and control (GNC) systems in 2013 aboard the NASA Mighty Eagle prototype lander, before testing it on its own vehicle. The company built its own vehicle in 2014 and through an increasingly complex series of tests following vehicle integration, the Moon Express “MTV-1X” proved out its fundamental systems a the Shuttle Landing Facility of the Kennedy Space Center in November and December last year. The Kennedy Space Center tests were carried out in partnership with NASA under its Lunar CATALYST program designed to spur new commercial U.S. capabilities to reach the Moon. Moon Express has published a highlights video of its initial flight test campaign.

Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards accepted the $1M Lander System award and a $250,000 Imaging Technology award on behalf of the company. “After seven years of competition it’s great to see the Google Lunar XPRIZE reward technical progress on a challenge that has only been accomplished to date by superpowers,” he said. “We look forward to announcing our rocket launch to the Moon.”

Moon Express is continuing flight-testing its MTV-1 lander test vehicle at Kennedy Space Center. Last week the company announced an agreement with Space Florida to take over the historic Space Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral to become the home of its lunar lander development and flight test operations beginning early this year.