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Moon Express selfie
An artist’s conception shows Moon Express’ lander extending its robotic arm to take a “selfie” of the spacecraft on the lunar surface with Earth in the background. (Credit: Moon Express)

An executive at Moon Express has been widely quoted as saying his company has reached its funding goal for this year’s planned commercial mission to the lunar surface, thanks to $20 million in new investment.

“We now have all the resources in place to shoot for the moon,” the Florida-based company’s CEO, Bob Richards, said in a statement. “Our goal is to expand Earth’s social and economic sphere to the moon, our largely unexplored eighth continent, and enable a new era of low-cost lunar exploration and development for students, scientists, space agencies and commercial interests.”

Space News quoted Richards as saying that the latest round of investment includes contributions from new and existing investors, including the company’s chairman and co-founder, Seattle-area tech entrepreneur Naveen Jain.

“He not only participated at a significant financial level, but also gave other investors the confidence through his commitment that they should invest as well,” Richards told Space News in an interview.

Jain declined to comment on Space News’ report, or several other reports that were published today.

In addition to Jain, the investors in Moon Express include Autodesk, Social Capital and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

Moon Express has preliminary approval for its payload from the U.S. government. It has its spacecraft, and it has a verified contract for the launch of its lander. The one big-ticket item it doesn’t have is a rocket that’s been flight-tested.

Moon Express’ contract calls on Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab to send its MX-1E lander into low Earth orbit atop a low-cost Electron rocket that’s to be launched from New Zealand. The lander has to be launched this year to meet the deadline for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition.

The contest’s $20 million top prize would go to the first team to put a spacecraft on the lunar surface, travel at least 500 meters (three-tenths of a mile) and send live video and pictures back to Earth. But if no team pulls off the feat by the end of 2017, the money goes unwon.

Rocket Lab has finished construction of its rocket complex on New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula, and it has finished ground testing of the Electron’s liquid-fueled Rutherford rocket engine. It still lacks the New Zealand government’s authorization for launch, however, and thus has not yet conducted any flight tests.

Moon Express and Rocket Lab are counting on the schedule to come together in time for a moonshot by the end of the year. In the meantime, Moon Express is reportedly beefing up the propulsion system on its spacecraft to make sure the lander can bridge the gap between low Earth orbit and the lunar surface.

At least four other Google Lunar X Prize teams – SpaceIL, Synergy Moon, Team Indus and Team Hakuto – have secured verified contracts for launch. One additional team, PTScientists, has said it’s waiting for the contest organizers to verify its arrangements with Seattle-based Spaceflight.

This report has been updated after contacting Naveen Jain.

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