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One small step for Moon Express lunar launch

Image: Moon Express in space
An artist’s conception shows Moon Express’ lander on the way to the lunar surface. (Credit: Moon Express)

Moon Express, the lunar exploration venture co-founded by Seattle entrepreneur Naveen Jain, has gotten the “all systems go” signal for its bid to put a robotic lander to the moon and win the Google Lunar XPRIZE.

The thumbs-up comes in the form of XPRIZE’s certification of Moon Express’ launch contract with Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab USA. If all goes according to schedule, Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle will blast off from a pad in New Zealand or the U.S. in 2017, sending Moon Express’ MX-1E lander to the lunar surface.

Next year, Rocket Lab is due to begin Electron test launches from a site on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. The company is also working with Alaska Aerospace Corp., which owns and operates the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska on Kodiak Island. In October, Rocket Lab won a $6.95 million NASA contract to launch a payload to low Earth orbit in the 2016-2017 time frame.

The Google Lunar XPRIZE flight would have to go much farther: The rules call for a privately funded lander to touch down on the moon, transport itself at least 500 meters (546 yards) and send video back to Earth. The first team to do all that within the rules wins $20 million. Another $10 million has been set aside for other prizes.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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