A private space exploration company has raised enough money to finance its first trip to the moon by the end of 2017. If successful, the company will become the first private entity to leave Earth's orbit and become the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the lunar surface since 1972.

Moon Express, which has a launchpad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, raised a $20 million funding round. Naveen Jain, co-founder and chairman of Moon Express says the company has raised a total of $45 million from investors including Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, Collaborative Fund, and Autodesk.

The company's first launch is slated for Nov. or Dec. 2017. Jain says he hopes it will be the first in a series of "low cost" unmanned missions.

"It used to cost $200 million to launch a rocket into space," says Jain. "But it now only costs $7 million, thanks to off-the-shelf technology."

Moon Express' robotic lunar spacecraft, the MX-1E, will be propelled by a Rocket Lab USA rocket, says Jain. Once out of Earth's orbit, he says the MX-1E spacecraft will separate from the rocket and start its solo, four-day journey to the moon.

The spacecraft will carry scientific and commercial payloads from the government and private companies, including payloads from NASA, International Lunar Observatory, the National Laboratories of Frascati of the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics, the University of Maryland, Google's X Prize, and Celestis (which sends human cremated remains to space).

The company contracted five rockets from Rocket Lab and has plans to use each one for unmanned missions to the moon's surface. The robotic spacecraft will explore the lunar landscape with an eye for scientific discovery and business opportunity. Jain says the company has many ideas to turn a profit, from selling moon rocks as engagement rings to harvesting ice to use as rocket fuel. Moon Express could also offer cheap trips to the moon for other companies, Jain says.

Moon Express is not the only company with its sights set on the moon. Last week, Moon Express and five other teams, including Hakuto from Japan, Israeli SpaceIL, India's Team Indus, and international firm Synergy Moon, were selected by Google's Lunar X Prize competition to participate in a race to the moon. The first company to land on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send back photos by the end of this year will receive $20 million.

In July 2016, Moon Express became the first private company to receive government permission to leave Earth's orbit and land on the moon. The company had to work with the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the White House, and the State Department to get the first-ever approval issued to a private company.

"We hope our mission can show that landing on the moon is no longer reserved for world powers and billionaires," says Jain. "We hope we can start an ecosystem that opens the space economy and create a platform that allows for repeatable, low-cost space exploration."