A billionaire entrepreneur has announced that he will start mining the Moon for gold and other precious metals before the year is out.
Naveen Jain announced last month that Moon Express, the company he co-founded in 2010, had raised enough money to start extracting natural resources from the lunar surface.
The company has now raised another $20 million in private equity financing to fund its maiden lunar mission, which will take place in late 2017.
“Moon Express now has all the capital it needs to land its small robotic spacecraft on the surface of the moon in November or December,” Jain told CNBC.
Moon Express is the only private company to have been granted permission by the US Government to leave Earth and land on the moon.
Its first mission will involve sending up its MZ-1 rover, which is no bigger than a washing machine, to collect moon samples and send high-definition video images back to Earth.
If it succeeds, it could win Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition, which will award $20 million to the first company to privately fund a rover to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit back high definition video.
After that, the company plans to start mining the moon for valuable resources, such as Helium-3, gold, platinum group metals, rare earth metals and water.
Helium-3 is of particular interest, because it is a clean, non-radioactive energy source that could potentially power nuclear fusion reactors — theoretically producing enough clean fuel to power entire industries, if not the entire planet.
Meanwhile, water can be separated into hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used to create rocket fuel. This would allow the moon to serve as a fueling station for spacecraft traveling to Mars and beyond.
Finally, Moon Express plans to help researchers develop human space colonies for future generations, and has promised to offer holidays to the moon by 2026.
“This year is a watershed year for Moon Express and America’s commercial space industry,” said Bob Richards, Moon Express’ co-founder, president and chief executive.
“Just before the presidential election, NASA released a call for concepts for payloads to the moon to be delivered by private companies. That shows a rising tide of interest in the moon by our nation’s space industry.”
While private companies race to be the first to land on the moon, superpowers are also busy preparing their own missions.
China has unveiled plans to visit the moon’s north and south poles late this year and return to Earth with rock samples, Russia’s Roscosmos is planning to build a space base on the moon.