Moon Express, a California-based venture has won the government approval to launch a mission beyond the orbit of the Earth. Express Moon has thus made history by becoming the first ever private enterprise to be cleared for such a mission.
The company plans to land its robotic craft on the moon next year. A new era of spaceflight will begin with this historic decision. If the company succeeds in landing its spacecraft on the moon, it will receive a prize of $30 million from Google. The tech giant launched a competition named Google Lunar XPrize in 2007 whereby the company would award USD 30 million to the first private company to land on the moon.
The company plans to mine the natural resources of the moon, valued trillions of dollars. As CNBC puts it:
“The moon is a treasure chest that has vast amounts of iron ore, water, rare Earth minerals and precious metals, as well as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and helium-3, a gas that can be used in future fusion reactors to provide nuclear power without radioactive waste.”
Apart from the other private forms, Moon Express will also be challenged by China as the country has already announced her plans of mining helium-3 on the moon. Helium 3 could transform the entire energy sector and is an invaluable resource.
The news has also prompted the lawmakers to regulate the outer space exploration and introduce new laws.
The Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act was signed by Barack Obama in the last November. The Act allows the private companies the right to claim any materials they collect in the outer space.
It is noteworthy to mention here that the US is a signee of the Outer Space Treaty, an agreement signed by the 104 countries in 1967 to authorise the government control over space missions. Thus, US will have to define the regulatory laws very soon. Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said:
“The great news was there is a regulatory process in the works. The bad news is we had zero confidence that the regulatory framework would be ready in time for our mission in 2017. Ironically you had a great ‘space resources’ act that says you can own what you get, but we’re in a situation where you can’t launch to go get it.”
Until the new laws are finalised, Moon Express and the U.S. government have reached a temporary arrangement that would allow the private firm to complete its mission as long as the Federal Aviation Administration is kept in the loop. The firm will have to respect the lunar missions of the other countries, both present and past.
“Don’t do wheelies over Neil’s footprint,” Richards said laughingly.
Following Moon Express, SpaceX will launch its Mars mission in 2018, and Bigelow Aerospace plans to open space hotels by 2020. The laws for outer space missions couldn’t come soon enough.