Moon Express, a private commercial space firm in Florida, has just received permission from the United States government to land a robot on the moon in 2017.
According to Quartz, “Never before has any company sought or received approval to do business beyond earth orbit.”
Space notes that the company’s application went to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and then “made its way through the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission,” a process that occurred from early April to late July.
With approval, Moon Express is on track to compete for Google’s Lunar X Prize of $25 million, to be awarded to the first company that lands a probe on the moon than can travel across the surface and transmit data back to Earth. The company’s most serious competitor may be a commercial space company in Israel, which is also plotting a 2017 launch and has a contract with Elon Musk’s Space X, but over a dozen other companies are challengers.
Moon Express showed great interest in harvesting resources from the moon, which is already legal for U.S. firms. “In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth,” Chairman Naveen Jain said. He further stated, “To me, the moon is really like international waters, but if you obtain resources, you do get to own the resources.”
According to CNBC,
The moon is a treasure chest that has vast amounts of iron ore, water, rare Earth minerals and precious metals, as well as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste. Experts concur that the value of these resources are in the trillions of dollars.
The moon can also serve as a fuel depot station for interplanetary space exploration. It has massive amounts of ice (H2O) trapped on the lunar poles that can be used for rocket fuel.
But the venture will also help develop new space technologies and be the first step toward private tourism to the moon. Jain spoke to CNN of when tourism could become a reality: “If I was a betting man, I’d say it’ll be sometime between 10 and 15 years.”
Moon Express’ mission will cost an estimated $25 million. Decades ago, when probes first landed on the moon, it cost $100 billion.