Moon Express, a startup based in the U.S., has been granted permission by the government to travel beyond Earth’s orbit. It’s the first private enterprise in history to receive approval and a big step toward the company’s goal of landing a robotic spacecraft on the moon’s surface in 2017.
If successful, Moon Express could pave the way for future missions for other companies to explore the moon, which scientists are hoping to mine for its vast resources. According to experts, via CNBC, the amount of rare Earth minerals and precious metals—carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, etc.—on the Moon are valued in the trillions of dollars.
In addition to being a treasure trove of valuable resources, researchers say the Moon would also make for an excellent rest stop during interplanetary travel.
“Getting this approval shows what a few entrepreneurs are capable of,” said Naveen Jain, Chairman. “It’s a good first step for commercial space pioneers.”
We’ve seen private companies go to space before but only into low Earth orbit, such as sending payloads to the International Space Station. Moon Express’ mission, which required special approval, will go well beyond that.
The landmark ruling issued by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation provides for interagency approval of the Moon Express 2017 lunar mission under the authority of the Secretary of Transportation, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal agencies to review and license commercial payloads missions in outer space. It adds a series of voluntary disclosures to help the federal government to fulfill its supervisory obligations under the Outer Space Treaty and ensure U.S. national security.
Moon Express stands to receive $20 million from Google if it can successfully land a commercial spacecraft on the moon, but it has to do so by 2017, so the clock is ticking. Should the mission be a success, Moon Express hopes to send more spacecraft to the lunar surface and maybe even bring material back by 2020.