Moon Express Incorporated has become the first-ever private company to be granted permission to land on the moon. On August 3rd, its executive team announced that the U.S. Government approved their 2017 robotic lunar landing in an attempt to commercialize missions to the moon and exploit its resources. For some time, private companies such as SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have been conducting missions on and around Earth, mostly to send cargo to the International Space Station. However, never before has a company presented a viable application to explore the lunar surface via a robotic lander (in this case Moon Express’ MX-1, the lunar lander that will be used for the first mission).
International engineers Naveen Jain, Barney Pell, and Robert D. Richards founded Moon Express in August 2010 with the goal of winning Google’s Lunar X Prize. The X Prize was created in 2007 in order to incentivize space entrepreneurs to build a new wave of affordable access to the Moon. The contest challenges teams to form privately financed projects and race to not only land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, but to travel 500 meters and transmit high-definition videos and images back to Earth. Teams have until December 2016 to present a federally verified launch contract to Google and must prove that at least 90% of their mission costs were funded by private sources. The competition offers a total of $30 million in prize money, with the winning organization attaining $20 million of that pot.
Since Moon Express was the first association with an approved mission, it is clear that their team of innovators is moving at an extraordinary pace. Moon Express’ application was submitted in April to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In just four months, the proposal went through a number of federal departments, including the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, and the Federal Communications Commission, clearly exhibiting the fortitude of their plan. Only one other organization, SpaceIL, has been granted a verified launch contract for 2017. In an interview with Space.com, Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said, “This is not only a milestone, but really a threshold for the entire commercial space industry,” (1).
The ultimate goal of Moon Express’ expedition stretches far beyond winning Google X Prize’s prestigious award. The Moon holds a surface that has been virtually untouched and constant for billions of years. Moon Express aims to launch multiple robotic landers (contingent on the success of MX-1) with mining capabilities to retrieve the Moon’s resources and put them to use on Earth. The most notable of these resources is helium-3, an energy source that is abundant on the Moon but scarce on Earth. Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain believes that using helium-3 as a nuclear fuel could potentially solve the demand for energy on Earth for 10,000 years. To a lesser extent, platinum is also believed to be applicable to various energy sources on Earth. With our world’s natural resources depleting at a rate that is unhealthy for mankind, the benefit of extracting the Moon’s materials could be monumental.
When asked about the excitement of the launch, Bob Richards stated, “Nobody’s had a deep-sea voyage yet. We’re still charting those waters. Somebody had to be first,” (1). For years, aerospace engineers and researchers have been longing for a way to thoroughly explore depths of the Moon. While NASA has been executing missions as often as possible, still only 5% percent of the earth’s neighbor has been explored (3). Furthermore, almost all of this exploration has come at the cost of government funds. Space exploration is indeed one of the most intriguing and pressing advancements that the U.S. is committed to. However, it is also one of the most costly. Extending the opportunity to private companies, through competitions such as X Prize, will rapidly help to U.S. to become an even greater pioneer in space voyage. It will also open the door for exceptional innovators and engineers to consolidate their theories on how to unlock the mysteries of space.
(1) Fox, Stuart. "6 Private Companies That Could Launch Humans Into Space." Space.com. N.p., 4 June 2010. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
(2) Atkinson, Nancy. "Is the Moon Really a 'Been There Done That' World?" Universetoday.com. Universe Today, 24 Dec. 2015. Web 28 Aug. 2016.
Image: © Giovanni Gagliardi | Dreamstime.com - Airplane and the Moon, Oslo
Carlos was born in Chicago, Illinois and came to USC to study psychology with a minor in Business Administration. He has worked in healthcare and finance for the past two summers. Carlos also helped co-found Trojan Marketing Group, a group that develops marketing strategies for large companies. Carlos has been with Global Intelligence Trust since summer of 2016. He am most interested in writing about innovation in the technology sector and aerospace developments. Apart from academics, Carlos enjoys playing volleyball, hiking, and traveling.