New Space Prize: Moon Express Crowd Sources Lunar Mining Tools

Largely lost in Moon Express’s announcement last week of a partnership with Auto Desk was the announcement of a new space prize:

Moon Express also announced “The Moon is ME” Lunar Mining Design Competition as a global challenge to design lunar mining tools that the MERLIN rovers can utilize to acquire and transport lunar samples containing valuable metals and minerals. The competition is global and open to students as well as professional designers using Autodesk software. The top designs will be prototyped and demonstrated in a field test competition at Moon Express facilities at the NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley. The winning prize design will be funded by the company for potential test and demonstration on the Moon.

In essence, Moon Express is going to crowd source these valuable tools instead of hiring people to internally design them.

It’s a clever approach. The company taps into a large user base. The competition generates great publicity. Moon Express will not only get the tools produced by the winner, but it will gain quite a bit of knowledge in reviewing all the different designs submitted. And it doesn’t bear the direct cost of developing the designs internally.

The designers will willingly work for free for the “potential” of having their creation tested and demonstrated on the lunar surface.  The winner will get quite a bit of renown for winning the competition. And that would certainly enhance the winner’s career prospects.

The rules for the competition are not published yet. It will be interesting to see how IP rights are handled. Does the designer keep those rights? Will the company compensate the designer for them? Or are they turned over to Moon Express as part of winning the competition?

These are not trivial matters. Lunar mining is a potentially billion- or even trillion-dollar business.  Anyone who creates patentable technologies for that industry will want to be compensated properly.