FAA authorizes private robotic space shot to the moon

Moon Express expects to launch its MX-1 spacecraft on a two-week mission to the lunar surface in 2017.

Moon Express

The Federal Aviation Administration this week granted permission to a privately-held space firm to launch a robotic spacecraft to the moon.

Moon Express expects to launch its MX-1 spacecraft on a two-week mission to the lunar surface in 2017.   The MX-1, which is about as large as a suitcase will include instruments and a camera to explore the moon’s surface.

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“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,’” the FAA stated. The FAA Office of Commercial Space Transportation holds controlling powers over space launches and their payloads.

“The FAA consults with other agencies to determine whether the launch of a proposed payload or payload class would present any issues affecting public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States,” the agency stated.

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Moon Express has a multi-mission rocket launch contract with Rocket Lab USA for 3 lunar missions between 2017 and 2020.

Moon Express was founded by Dr. Bob Richards, Naveen Jain, and Dr. Barney Pell in August 2010 and is a contender for the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. It is also part of NASA’s Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data program that looks to develop lunar vehicle capabilities and demonstrate robotic landing missions.

Moon Express said it actively consulted with the White House, U.S. federal agencies, and Congressional oversight committees to fashion an interim 'Mission Approval' arrangement to license its 2017 lunar mission, by enhancing existing regulatory processes which assure that the mission will be consistent with U.S. law, policy, and international treaty obligations.

"Moon Express applauds efforts underway by the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch to establish a permanent regulatory framework to authorize commercial activities beyond Earth orbit," said Moon Express cofounder and CEO Bob Richards. "Our 'Mission Approval' process is an interim arrangement that can be implemented quickly enough for our 2017 launch requirements, allowing us to continue to execute on our business plans under U.S. law while ensuring our activities are consistent with U.S. obligations under the Outer Space Treaty."

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