The private company, Moon Express, has announced it raised enough money to get to the moon. Its plan is to mine Earth’s natural satellite to get new resources. It already received the permission of the U.S Government.

The California-based company raised $45 million to finance the trip to the moon. They gathered $20 million just in the last fundraise round. The first step is to get a launcher there to take pictures of the moon’s surface. But considering international law, mining the moon might be harder than they think.

Artist’s depiction of Moon Express’ MX-1 spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. Image Credit: Moon Express

“We now have all the resources in place to shoot for the Moon,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said in a statement. “Our goal is to expand Earth’s social and economic sphere to the Moon, our largely unexplored eighth continent, and enable a new era of low-cost lunar exploration and development for students, scientists, space agencies and commercial interests.”

$45 million to get their launcher to the Moon 

Moon Express (MoonEx) is an American company created by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in 2010. It was located from 2010 to 2015 at the NASA Ames Research Center, but it has recently moved to Florida’s Cape Canaveral. It was created with the goal of winning the Google Lunar X Prize and to offer commercial lunar robotic transportation and data services.

However, another goal of the company is to get to mine the moon and get its resources including elements that are very rare on Earth including niobium, dysprosium, and yttrium. The latter now seems more likely to occur since they got the funds to get to the moon.

The company needed $45 million to send a launcher to explore, take photos and collect data in the moon to analyze how likely it is to explode its mineral resources.

Moon Express said that most of their funds come from the private sector, including Founders Fund and Collaborative Fund, the software company Autodesk, and also they just raised $20 million in the last round of financing.

The money will be used specifically for the Moon Express’s MX-1E lander, and it will be launched on an experimental Electron rocket. Last year, the mission of Moon Express was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, becoming the first company to receive the permission from the United States government to go to the moon.

Moon Express is one of the contenders in the Google Lunar X Prize

Google Lunar XPrize is an international competition that was created with the aim of sending the first private spacecraft to the moon.  The deadline set to do so is December 31st, 2017. The first team that manages to land and explore the lunar surface will get a $20 million prize. Moon Express is one of the top contenders.

It is planning to get its MX-1E lander to the Earth orbit using the Electron rocket, and then the lander will fire its engines, getting to the moon four days later to get data to send back to Earth.

It will carry payloads from NASA, the International Lunar Observatory, and the University of Maryland. One of the conditions to win the prize is that the funds of the missions have to come at least in 90 percent from private sources, which is not a problem for Moon Express.

The issue for Moon Express is the rocket. The electron that will launch the MX-1E lander is a brand-new vehicle manufactured by Rocket Lab, an American aerospace company.

It is planned to be launched from New Zealand, but this rocket has never been tried before. Rocket Lab did say that the rocket is ready to be tested, but there is not a set date for that.

Is it legal to mine the Moon? 

It seems Moon Express is determined to carry out its plan to get to the moon, win the price and even explore the lunar resources. It already received the approval from the U.S authorities. On the other hand, President Barack Obama signed the SPACE Act in 2015, which makes it possible for private entities to mine resources from space.

Though it is perfectly legal in the US, it is necessary to understand that the moon and other celestial bodies are not under the sovereignty of just one country. According to the United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty of 1967, the exploration and use of celestial bodies are only possible if it’s done for the benefit of all countries.

As well it forbids any action that would lead to harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies. Therefore a U.S private company mining the resources from the moon is not exactly what the resolution promotes.

There is certainly an issue left to resolve regarding the international law to make Moon Express’ plans a reality, even tough the company stated that their purposes would develop and expand our social and economic spheres of the entire Earth.

Source: The Verge