Approval for the US startup Moon Express was announced Wednesday morning after their April filing of a request to the US Federal Aviation Administration received a favourable nod by the committee.
The Florida based company was founded in 2010 with aims for the “Advancement of technology, science, research, and development, as well as commercial ventures that expand Earth’s economic sphere,” according to their press release.
Since NASA conducted humanity’s first journey to the moon in 1969, national-governments have held exclusive rights regarding travel to our nearest terrestrial neighbour.
Only the US, and very recently China, have ever sent crafts to the lunar surface, something Google’s backed Lunar XPRISE programme wants to change.
Sixteen international teams are currently racing to be the first privately-funded company to land on the moon before the end of 2017. With a $20 million grand prize, Google hopes to “incentivise space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the Moon and beyond.” Thus far, Moon Express is the only company to be granted regulatory permission to land.
In order to be considered the winner, Lunar XPRISE contenders must successfully land their rover on the moon, travel at least 500 metres, and send back HD video and images. The 384,400 km journey is estimated by NASA to cost over $1 billion, but through the use of new innovative transportation methods, such as SpaceX’s new reusable Falcon9 rocket, entrepreneurs hope to cut that cost down to as little as $50 million.
Since the 2009 discovery of water on the moon, its resources have become a major draw for private corporations. Visions of lunar mining explorations and troves of rare earth elements have long been imagined as a suitable substitute for the ravaging operations conducted on our own planet. Pollution caused by such enterprises might not have any effect in space, where destroying a non-existent atmosphere isn’t a concern.