Florida-based startup Moon Express plans to land a lunar probe on the moon before the year is out, the company’s CEO said in a Sunday interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP).
If successful, Moon Express would become the first private company to put a probe on the moon.
Moon Express is “very optimistic [about the] date given that the rocket has yet to achieve orbit and given we are still building our vehicle,” co-founder and CEO Robert Richards said in the interview. “Our company is about building an enterprise, a visionary enterprise to bridge first to the moon in an economic way that collapses the cost of getting there and develops brand new markets.”
Moon Express needs to land a probe on the moon by December 2017 to qualify for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize. Google requires a company to land “a robot on the surface of the Moon, traveling 500 meters over the lunar surface, and sending images and data back to the Earth.”
Moon Express is one of two teams to have secured a rocket launch contract for its lunar lander. Federal regulators approved Moon Express’s lunar mission in August 2016.
The company plans three lunar missions through 2020, one of which is expected to bring moon rocks to Earth.
A successful moon landing would put into motion Moon Express plans to begin prospecting for water to fuel its rockets. The company may also search for rare elements, like platinum and helium-3. Both elements could be used for nuclear fusion.
Moon Express’ plans were hampered with hesitance from the Obama administration. The State Department attempted to stop Moon Express from sending the robot in order to enforce a treaty originally signed in 1967 with the Soviet Union. Moon Express was forced to get a regulatory “patch” and allow the government to directly oversee the flight.
This is the first time the government has granted regulatory approval for a private space mission beyond Earth orbit. The private company SpaceX has announced its plans to send spacecraft to Mars in 2018 and Bigelow Aerospace wants to launch space hotels by 2020.
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