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Screenshot of a video from Moon Express showing the MX-1E traveling toward the Moon.

Florida-based company Moon Express – one of the few participants in the Google Lunar XPrize Competition – is now setting its sights on even bigger ambitions: developing a fleet of spacecraft robots to mine the Moon and beyond.

The company unveiled plans this week to build an outpost on the South Pole of the Moon by 2020. The ultimate vision includes robotic vehicle residents that could mine for water, minerals and other resources.

The plan is described in three phases – Expedition One: Lunar Scout; Expedition Two: Lunar Outpost; and Expedition Three: Harvest Moon.

The first phase essentially includes being named the winner of the Google Lunar XPrize Competition and earning the $20 million grand prize by being the first private company to land a spacecraft on the Moon. To be considered a success, the winning team must land their spacecraft on the Moon’s surface, have it travel at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) and send back high-definition videos and photos back to Earth. To win the prize, Moon Express would have to accomplish this feat with its MX-1E spacecraft by the end of 2017. Four other teams are also competing.

But this is just the beginning for Moon Express. The next step will be to build three more spacecraft vehicles within the next few years – the MX-2, MX-5 and MX-9. All the vehicles would be able to ride aboard any rocket available.

The MX-2 will double the capability of the original MX-1E, and boasts “enough punch to reach Venus or the moons of Mars from low Earth orbit.” The MX-5 is labeled as the “lunar workhorse.” Both the MX-5 and MX-9 would be large enough to carry a smaller spacecraft, like the MX-1E, which could cruise around the lunar surface and store materials to be returned to Earth. The robot vehicles could also extract water-ice within the Moon’s South Pole, and use it to produce propellant for the fleet of vehicles. The possibility of harvesting rocks and minerals to sell to NASA or other interested buyers has also been discussed by Moon Express. How they would actually mine these resources is still yet to be announced.

Creating the Lunar research outpost on the South Pole is the official goal of the second phase of the journey. This will enable the first commercial presence and exploration of the South Pole, according to Moon Express.

The final stage, which Moon Express claims will be done by 2020, will include harvesting Moon samples and sending them back to Earth for scientific and commercial purposes.

“Our on-going expeditions to the Moon with robotic explorers will collapse the cost of lunar access and enable new markets and opportunities to arise, bringing the Moon within reach by creating low cost frequent opportunities for democratized lunar exploration by scientists, researchers, students, and everyday people. Our goal is to open the lunar frontier for all of us, ultimately expanding Earth’s economic and social spheres to our 8th continent, the Moon,” wrote the company.

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