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Moon Express Scores U.S. Approval For Private Lunar Mission in 2017

Aug 05, 2016 04:01 AM EDT
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A private company has been granted approval to land on the moon.

Florida-based Moon Express announced on Wednesday that it has secured official permission from the U.S. government to land a spacecraft on the moon.

"This is not only a milestone, but really a threshold for the entire commercial space industry," Bob Richards, CEO and co-founder of Moon Express, said in an interview with Space.com.

Only three countries had soft-landed on the moon - the U.S., the Soviet Union and China - since the 1960s. Moon Express' planned moon voyage will be a first in space history, as no private space company had ever attempted to leave Earth's orbit.

"Nobody's had a deep-sea voyage set. We're still charting those waters. Somebody had to be first," he said.

According to the company, the challenge was the lack of regulatory pathway given that the planned private lunar mission is the first in the country. The company submitted its application to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in April this year, and their request passed through the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and finally, the Federal Communications Commission, Space.com reports.

With the approval of the mission, Moon Express is now focusing on financial and technical challenges for their planned launch in late 2017. The company is set to launch its MX-1 lander atop the New Zealand experimental rocket Rocket Lab Electron Booster.

The company is also aiming to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, which is a $30 million competition to land a privately owned robotic vehicle on the moon.

"We will strap two landers together on a rocket to low Earth orbit. Once there, one of the landers will act as a booster sending the other one toward the moon," Naveen Jain, co-founder of Moon Express, described their flight plan in an interview with PopSci.com.

"On the final approach, the one lander will use its thrusters and autonomous software to land. Since there's a 3-second delay between the moon and Earth, we can't guide the landing remotely."

According to the company, future Moon Express missions will help in assessing, extracting and exploiting resources on the moon, such as water ice, and help launch a new era in space exploration.

"To rephrase John F. Kennedy, we chose to the go to the moon not because it is easy but because it is profitable," Jain said. "We see this as a first step in providing humanity with a plan B, rather than living on a single point of failure called Spaceship Earth."

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