aksu360 can confirm that lunar exploration and mining company Moon Express has received government approval for a mission to the moon, marking a potential boost for the commercial space industry. Armed with the go-ahead from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Mountain View, Calif., company plans to launch its unmanned MX-1 lunar lander next year, 2017. Previously, only nations have launched missions beyond Earth's orbit.
"We look at the moon as our eighth continent," said Naveen Jain, co-founder of Moon Express. "We have explored all of our seven continents, so why not go to the eighth continent."
On its first mission, the MX-1 lander is expected to take scientific experiments, telescopes and other items to the moon in a test of the spacecraft's software. The lander is set to launch on one of Los Angeles-based Rocket Lab's Electron rockets, which has yet to make its first flight.
Eventually, Moon Express plans to mine for resources on the moon, such as platinum group metals and Helium-3, which some believe could be a safer nuclear fuel and is present in larger quantities on the moon, according to the European Space Agency.
Analysts have said this approval could pave the way for future licensing of commercial space activity outside of Earth's orbit, such as SpaceX's mission to Mars set for 2018. The final approval for the mission came after consultation between several federal agencies -- the FAA, White House, NASA and the State Department, Moon Express said.
This level of coordination was necessary because a mission like that of Moon Express is subject to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, an international regulatory agreement initiated by the U.S. and Russia. Among other things, the treaty states that missions to the moon and other celestial bodies must be peaceful.
The FAA mission approval is restricted to this single mission, and any future missions will need to receive similar clearance from the agency.