The United States government would approve the first private mission to the moon as Moon Express tries to establish a robotic spacecraft on Earth’s natural satellite. The company, which is competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, is planning to mine the moon to obtain rare elements such as rocks and metals.

U.S. regulators would update regulatory policies to support private initiatives seeking to reach the moon, respecting international space treaties. Moon Express is planning to install a 20-pound multi-mission lander platform on the Earth’s satellite within 2017, once the federal rules are published.

The guidelines for private space travels to the Moon are just a glimpse of what's to come in our time
The guidelines for private space travels to the Moon are just a glimpse of what’s to come in our time. Image Credit: NASA

Further guidance will have to consider legal and diplomatic aspects, to guarantee that private or non-governmental projects meet international space treaties. Same regulations would apply for spacecraft seeking to exploit asteroids, according to people involved in the matter, who spoke to the Journal.

Moon Express CEO: “We’ve become a regulatory pathfinder out of necessity.”

The U.S. launch license would be issued in the coming weeks. The journey to the moon has been complicated for Moon Express since its MX-1 rocket has not flown yet. However, people in the project said that legal challenges would be the most difficult part of the mission.

The White House science office alongside the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), are in charge of the decision. The latter controls all U.S. rocket launches and payloads inside them.

A spokesperson for FAA said that officials are currently working to present a mechanism to allow private space companies to conduct their operations. The agency said it would not provide further details until the process ends up, said the Wall Street Journal.

“We’ve become a regulatory pathfinder out of necessity. Only governments have undertaken space missions beyond Earth orbit.” Bob Richards, chief executive and founder of Moon Express told the Journal.

Several companies are competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, most of them have different objectives

X Prize Moon Robot Contest' deadline has been pushed back a year.
X Prize Moon Robot Contest’ deadline has been pushed back a year. Image Credit: Lunar X Prize

Google Lunar X Prize is a global competition organized by Alphabet Inc., which challenges participants to land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon by the end of 2017. To Google’s challenge, a private company must place a lander on the natural satellite, explore 500 meters and send HD video to Earth.

Moon Express CEO Bob Richards announced in December last year that his company was going to participate in the challenge.

“Having multiple teams attempting actual missions to the moon is a hallmark of a genuine competition,” he added.

Here is a video where Bob Richards explains his position about moon exploitation:

Moon contains rare elements including platinum group metals, Helium-3, and rocks, which can be mined by Moon Express. The company said in a public statement that the Earth’s natural satellite would be “the eighth continent,” since it holds resources that can “secure our future.”

Other 15 companies are competing for the Google Lunar X Prize. The winner will receive $30 million from Google. Only three countries have been able to reach the moon, the United States, the former Soviet Union and China. 

The Israeli SpaceIl company has also joined the race. Unlike Moon Express, it does not plan to mine the moon. According to an official statement, SpaceIl seeks to “create a new Apollo Effect”, to inspire generations in the country to engage in education and science.

Source: The Wall Street Journal