The US government is set to make history once again in matters related to private access to riches in space by letting the first commercial mission go to the Moon.
The imminent decision would come on the heels of the Obama administration’s ground-breaking move last year to allow US citizens own resources mined beyond the Earth’s orbit.
It would also set precedents for how the US government would ensure that private ventures comply with international space treaties, The Wall Street Journal reported (subs. required), citing unnamed sources familiar with the details.
The US official endorsement of such mission would let Moon Express, a so far little-known space start-up co-founded by serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Naveen Jain, land a 20-pound (9kg) package of scientific gear, including a telescope, on the Moon sometime next year.
Moon Express believes there is a viable business flying commercial flights to the Earth’s only natural satellite and potentially mining its resources.
The firm is also hoping to snag the prize of up to $25 million by winning the Lunar X Prize, a competition set up by Google to encourage private companies to try to establish a viable business beyond Earth’s orbit.
Moon Express began lobbying the federal government in April 2014 on commercial space flight and has since spent $140,000 targeting Congress and the president’s office, according to Senate lobbying disclosure forms. It has also increased expenditures in the past six months, investing $60,000 during that time.
The US, Russia and China government space programs have landed probes on the Moon, but so far no private company has ever launched a mission to space.
That means Moon Express would not only face legal hurdles (obtaining a formal launch license), but also technical challenges. That includes the fact that it hasn’t actually launched the rocket it intends to use.
The rocket and the MX-1 lander it plans to send to the Moon would also need approval for its proposed two-week operation.
The approval would pave the way for several other for-profit space ventures currently in the works. These include plans to mine asteroids, track space debris, build the first human settlement in Mars, and billionaire Elon Musk’s own plan for an unmanned mission to the red planet in 2018.