The federal government has officially approved the first private, commercial space mission beyond the Earth’s orbit, Ars Technica reports. And by “federal government,” we mean a combined review from NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, the White House, the U.S. Department of State, the Department of Defense, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the FCC. Moon Express intends to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon by the end of 2017 in the hopes of winning Google’s Lunar XPRIZE.
The Lunar XPRIZE awards $20 million to the first company to land a mostly-privately-funded (90 percent) spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters, and send hi-res images and videos back to Earth. There are 16 companies in contention for the prize, with two—Moon Express and SpaceIL—having secured the necessary launch contract. (The others have until December 31, 2016 to secure contracts.) The documentary series Moon Shot follows several XPRIZE hopefuls.
“We’re opening up the Solar System,” Bob Richards, co-founder and chief executive of Moon Express, told Ars Technica. “This is a real breakthrough, and it’s being recognized by the US government as a breakthrough. They’re very excited about this, while being respectful of US obligations to the Outer Space Treaty.”
The reasoning behind the 90 percent funding requirement is to incentivize entrepreneurs to discover affordable access to the Moon, and eventually beyond. Moon Express has already raised $30 million and is now seeking to raise another $25 million to finish production on their MX-1E lander. (You can see some very optimistic concept art of the MX-1E on the Moon above.) Furthermore, the MX-1E will contain recent innovative technology, in the form of 3-D printing and CubeSat (miniaturized satellites) to keep the weight down.
“Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children,” Moon Express co-founder and Chairman Naveen Jain said in a statement. “In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth. In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth’s economy, and potentially our second home.”
For more information, check out the FAA’s press release.