Moon mission by private firm approved by FAA US
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given permission for the first private company to send a spacecraft to the Moon.
The decision, which will allow Florida-based Moon Express to fly a suitcase-sized spacecraft to the Moon for a two-week mission next year, is a major breakthrough as so far only government agencies have been launching missions beyond the low Earth orbit.
“The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the US government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond the Earth’s orbit,” said Moon Express co-founder and 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.”
There has been no legal framework in place so far addressing the outer space activities of private operators. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty assigns responsibility for the space activities of private entities to the respective governments of the countries where the companies are based.
To address the gap, the FAA had to conduct an inter-agency review of the Moon Express proposal, making sure the firm’s activities will comply with the Outer Space Treaty.
The project was approved by Nasa who agreed no extra law was necessary for Moon Express to operate on the lunar surface.
The Moon Express robotic probe will carry several instruments. Once on the Moon, it will capture images of the surface and transmit them back to the Earth. Among the spacecraft’s cargo will be some private objects including cremated human remains.
The mission will have to operate in such a way that it doesn't disturb Apollo landing sites and other areas related to past exploration.
Private space exploration has attracted a lot of investment and interest over the past decade. Another US company, Planetary Resources, is developing plans to mine precious metals on asteroids. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduced plans earlier this year to send a private spacecraft to Mars in two years. A private mission to Mars would require much more regulation with which to comply, due to the concerns about contamination that could affect possible Martian life.