The federal government will permit a US startup to send a robotic spacecraft to the moon next year, paving the way for the company to be the first non-government organization to land on the moon.
Moon Express announced on Wednesday morning that it had been granted approval for its planned 2017 lunar mission. Previously, commercial companies have traveled only within Earth’s orbit.
“With this landmark ruling, Moon Express has become the first private company approved to literally go out of this world as a pioneer of commercial space missions beyond Earth orbit,” the commercial space company said in a statement on its website.
The US, the Soviet Union and China are the only entities to have successfully landed on the moon. The outer space treaty, which regulates government exploration of the celestial world, was adopted by the United Nations and went into effect in 1967. The treaty requires “non-governmental entities” to receive “authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty”.
Moon Express submitted its request in April to the Federal Aviation Administration, which made a favorable determination on 20 July, according to an FAA fact sheet. The Florida-based company was founded in 2010 to develop the moon’s resources.
The company is one of 16 teams aiming to be the first commercial entity to land on the moon and to net the $20m that comes with the feat, courtesy of Google. In 2007, Google launched its “lunar X Prize” promising $20m to the first company to land a privately funded rover on the moon. Three of the 16 teams still in the running are based in the US, although Moon Express is the only one so far to receive approval.
In a statement, the FAA said it would “continue to work with the commercial space industry to provide support for non-traditional missions on a case-by-case basis”.
Washington, D.C. – The Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) congratulates Moon Express, Inc., on its U.S. government authorization for a planned robotic mission to the Moon in 2017. This is the first time that a private enterprise has been licensed by the U.S. Government to venture to the lunar surface.
Moon Express first filed the application with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on April 8, 2016. The company then consulted extensively with the FAA, White House, State Department, NASA and other federal agencies before being granted the landmark license. The formal approval sets a precedent for the private sector to engage in peaceful space exploration in accordance with U.S. national obligations of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
Empowered by this government authorization, Moon Express will now be able to continue to make progress towards its ambitious goal of unlocking the resources of the Moon. As Moon Express CEO Bob Richards notes, “We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity.”
CSF President Eric Stallmer agrees. “We applaud the government for its decision on this critical mission that will make possible humanity’s development of space resources. I am thrilled for CSF member, Moon Express, and anxiously await for this unprecedented milestone in space exploration.”
Moon Express is a privately funded space company co-founded in 2010 by space visionary Dr. Bob Richards, billionaire entrepreneur Naveen Jain, and technology guru Dr. Barney Pell. The organization aims to explore and develop lunar resources for the benefit of humanity. It partnered with NASA in 2014 under the Lunar CATALYST program. In October 2015, Moon Express announced a launch contract with Rocket Lab USA for 3 launches to the Moon beginning in 2017. In 2016, Moon Express announced an agreement with the US Air Force to utilize Cape Canaveral Launch Complexes 17 and 18 for the development of its spacecraft.