The founders of a Florida-based company are over the Moon about securing government approval for their commercial lunar mission.
“For the first time in the history of space travel, a private enterprise will leave this world to explore another,” said Moon Express in announcing the authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration on Aug. 2.
“This breakthrough U.S. policy decision provides authorization to Moon Express for a maiden flight of its robotic spacecraft onto the Moon’s surface, beginning a new era of ongoing commercial lunar exploration and discovery, unlocking the immense potential of the Moon’s valuable resources.”
Moon Express — founded in Mountainview, Calif., but now based at Cape Canaveral in Florida — got the green light for a lunar mission sometime next year after reviews by the FAA, NASA and other federal agencies.
“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said. “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.”
Up to now, commercial spaceflight has been limited to operations in Earth’s orbit. The U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, enacted in November, made commercial missions to mine precious metals from asteroids or the Moon legal for the first time, but individual missions still require government authorization.
The FAA issued a review fact sheet Aug. 3. The agency said it had determined the mission met guidelines governing issues of safety, national security and international treaty obligations. The authorization is for the mission itself, and the agency still must issue an actual launch clearance.
Founded in 2010, Moon Express aims to mount mining operations eventually. For now, its chief goal is to launch and land a lunar rover loaded with scientific-research equipment.
In October 2015, Moon Express announced a launch contract with Rocket Lab USA for three lunar launches, beginning in 2017. To further its maiden Moon mission, Moon Express is participating in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.
“This breakthrough ruling is another giant leap for humanity,” Moon Express chairman Naveen Jain said. “Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children.
“In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and Moon rocks back to Earth,” Jain added. “In 15 years, the Moon will be an important part of Earth’s economy and potentially our second home. Imagine that.”