Moon Express given permission to fly beyond Earth

A computer rendering of the MX-1 probe on the way to the Moon. Image courtesy of Moon Express.
A computer rendering of the MX-1 probe on the way to the Moon. Image courtesy of Moon Express.

Moon Express has become the first private enterprise given permission to fly beyond geostationary orbit.

The US-based private spaceflight company intends to send a probe to the Moon by 2017, however before they did this, they first required regulatory permission from the US government.

Moon Express received this landmark go-head following extensive consolation with the FAA, the White House, the State Department, Nasa and other federal agencies.

Prior to this ruling, the furthest a commercial satellite craft had gone from earth was geostationary orbit – around 36,000km above the Earth’s surface.

“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the U.S. government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit,” said Moon Express 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 Moon Express probe mission to the Moon – called MX-1 – is being positioned to claim Google’s Lunar X-Prize. The probe itself will be launched atop a rocket produced by a US/Kiwi spaceflight startup called RocketLab.

Moon Express has signed a contract with RocketLab for a total of 3 launches of its new Electron rocket booster.

Once it reaches the Moon, the small probe will conduct reconnaissance for future commercial resource development.

As well, the craft will attempt to use its thrusters to ‘hop’ across the Moon’s surface and in doing so, claim the Google X-prize money.

Rules dictate that for a private organisation to win the grand prize of $20mn they must land on the Moon, beam back HD footage, and also travel 500m across the Moon’s surface.

The MX-1 will be the first of many private craft to travel beyond Earth. Aside from the remaining Lunar X-Prize competitors, other companies such as SpaceX have far more ambitious plans.

Working with Nasa they have announced a 2018 mission to Mars called Red Dragon, which will involve a craft many times larger that the MX-1.