Cape Canaveral-based Moon Express wants to be the first private company to land on the moon.
On Wednesday, the company took a step toward that goal: The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Moon Express to go somewhere that only NASA has gone before, and send a robotic lander to the moon.
It’s the first time the government has granted regulatory approval for a private mission beyond Earth's orbit, according to The Verge.
Moon Express embarked on their mission to the moon in pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize, an international competition with a $30 million prize going to whichever private company can send the vehicle to the Moon's surface. After securing the FAA’s approval, Moon Express is now in the lead in the race to the moon.
“The MX-1E is a spacecraft/lander capable of transfer from Earth orbit to the Moon, making a soft landing on the lunar surface, and performing post-landing relocations through propulsive ‘hops,’” according to the FAA.
The lander is still in development, but in preparation for the journey Moon Express has already secured a launch contract with a rocket to take it to the moon’s surface. While the rocket is still being built, Moon Express is optimistic that they will make it to the moon by the X Prize’s deadline of 2017.
“To rephrase John F. Kennedy, we choose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s profitable,” Moon Express Chairman Naveen Jain told Popular Science. “We see this as a first step in providing humanity with a plan B, rather than living on a single point of failure called Spaceship Earth.”
In addition to hopefully winning the X Prize competition, Moon Express plans to mine the moon for rare elements and metals.
“Even though we are a proud contender [in the X Prize competition], it’s neither a cornerstone of creating the business nor do we need to win it,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards told The Verge. “But we want to win it.”