For the first time, the U.S. government has granted regulatory approval for a commercial company to travel beyond Earth and land on the Moon.
The historic authorization was granted to Moon Express, one of sixteen private enterprises vying for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition that will award $30 million to the first privately funded team to land a rover on the Moon, travel 500 meters, and send high-definition images and video back to Earth.
Founded in August 2010 by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs Naveen Jain, Barney Pell, and Bob Richards, MoonEx has expressed intent to develop a low-cost spacecraft and mine the Moon for resources in an effort to “expand Earth’s economic sphere.”
In a press release announcing the authorization, CEO Bob Richards said, “The recent discovery of water on the Moon is an economic game changer for humanity’s future. Water is the oil of the solar system, and the Moon has become a gas station in the sky.”
Chairman Naveen Jain added, “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.”
An interagency review team led by the Federal Aviation Administration officially approved the company’s mission with the release of a fact sheet Wednesday. “The FAA has determined that the launch of the payload does not jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States,” the agency wrote.
Conveniently stationed in Cape Canaveral, Florida, MoonEx has already passed the XPRIZE’s milestones of developing landing and imagining technology, earning the firm a total of $1.25 million in prize winnings. The team has yet to complete its Moon lander.
Perhaps more importantly though, the company is one of just two that have secured verified launch contracts. The other fourteen teams have until the end of 2016 to secure such contracts in order to avoid being disqualified from the competition.
The MoonEx launch is scheduled aboard a Rocket Lab rocket in the second half of 2017.
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