The first private Moon landing could be made by a group of European scientists next year.
A group of rocket engineers called PTScientists (Part-time Scientists), has built a landing module and two rovers, which are expected to launch in 2018 on board Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The landing module will be programmed to touch down in the Taurus-Littrow valley, around two miles from the site of the final Apollo 17 mission.
It will deploy two rovers with the aim of tracking down Nasa’s moon buggy which was left behind by Gene Cernan, the last man on the Moon.
The team is keen to find out how well the buggy has survived on the lunar surface for more than four decades and, if successful, it will mark 46 years since humans drove on another world.
The site was also chosen because pictures taken by the Apollo 17 team show it is flat, with few stones to slow down the rovers, which are packed with scientific equipment to carry out tests.
On Sunday the group announced it had teamed up with British telecommunications giant Vodafone who will provide the high-speed link up to Earth for the mission.
“This is a crucial first step for sustainable exploration of the solar system” said Robert Boehme, the chief executive of PTScientists.
“In order for humanity to leave the cradle of Earth, we need to develop infrastructures beyond our home planet.
“With Mission to the Moon we will establish and test the first elements of a dedicated communications network on the Moon.”
The launch will come ten years after the team started work on its Autonomous Landing and Navigation Moduline (Alina) and Audi lunar quattro rovers. The team worked with Audi to build the solar powered rovers which will trundle across the lunar surface at around 2.2 mph (3.6kmph) and have stereo cameras capable of taking 3D images, as well as a third camera to record video and capture panoramic images.
The Alina spacecraft will also be carrying scientific experiments from researchers in the US. Canada and Sweden.
“We will be collecting a lot of scientific data on the Moon and the high-speed data connectivity will enable the rovers to communicate with Alina to send that valuable data back to Earth,” said ” said electrical engineer and rover driver Karsten Becker.
“Our rovers are packed with sensors and equipped with high definition cameras.”
However the team could still lose the space race to five other companies who are competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, a $20 million competition to become the first first team to put a probe on the Moon, have it travel at least a third of a mile (500 metres) and send live video and photos back to Earth.
To qualify for the prize the probe has to be launched by the end of this year and teams from Israel, Japan and the US are in the running.
PTScientists were ruled out of the prize because they could not secure a launch date until 2018, but they are still hoping to be the first. And they are the only group which is planning to build a working communications infrastructure on the Moon, which can make ‘make humanity a fully-fledged space-faring species.’
“With this this step we are laying the groundwork for all future moon missions to come,” said Hannes Ametsreiter, Chief Executive of Vodafone Germany.
“When Elon Musk sends his first private passengers to Orbit the Moon in 2018 or ESA opens the doors of its moon village our Vodafone network will already be there.”