The U.S. Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) announced on 3 August that on 20 July it had approved the first commercial space payload intended to land on the Moon.
The agency granted a “favorable payload determination” for Moon Express, a privately funded commercial space company based in Moffett Field, Calif., to launch its coffee-table-sized robotic MX-1E spacecraft.
The approval “is a landmark decision by the U.S. government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit,” said company cofounder and CEO Bob Richards. “We are now free to set sail as explorers to Earth’s eighth continent, the Moon, seeking new knowledge and resources to expand Earth’s economic sphere for the benefit of all humanity.”
The company, a contender for the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, envisions bringing precious resources, metals, and Moon rocks back to Earth in the near future, according to Moon Express cofounder and chairman Naveen Jain.
FAA made its decision in consultation with other agencies, including the State Department and NASA. It determined that the launch does not jeopardize public health and safety, U.S. national security or foreign policy interest, or U.S. international obligations, including Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty. The treaty states that “the moon and other celestial bodies shall be used by all States Parties to the Treaty exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
In 2014, NASA partnered with Moon Express and two other U.S. companies to advance lander capabilities to enable payload delivery to the surface of the Moon. In 2015, the company lauded U.S. president Barack Obama’s signing into law the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. The act includes a section referred to as the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015 that facilitates commercial exploration for and commercial recovery of space resources.
—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer