Moon Express Makes Lunar History, First Private Company To Get Approval For Moon Mission

First Posted: Aug 06, 2016 04:11 AM EDT

Moon Express (MoonEx), a California based private space faring firm, has reportedly become the first to win an approval from the U.S. government for flying a mission to the moon. The company made the historic announcement on Wednesday.

"To me, going to the moon is symbolic of what individuals and small groups of people are capable of doing," said Naveen Jain, co-founder and chairman of Moon Express. "It is an inspiration that allows people to think that the things that were only done by the superpowers, a small group of people can now do".

The company is one of the few firms competing for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize, an award that will be given to the first team that lands a robot on the surface of the moon, trek it for a distance of 500 meters  as well as send back images from there. As per reports, at the moment it seems Moon Express is deemed as the favorite to win the competition, a status it shares with Israeli rival SpaceIL.

The lander that Moon Express will send to the lunar surface will be, obviously, vastly different from NASA's Apollo. The lunar lander will approximately be as big as a go-kart, and the overall look will be similar to the Roomba vacuum. The firm's plan is to send the lander to Earth's low orbit area on a small rocket made especially to launch tiny satellites, after which it will use its own engine to make the  200,000-plus mile distance to the moon. The landing thrusters on the robotic explorer will help the lander make a smooth descent on the lunar surface, after which it will move around with rocket-hops.

According to Moon Express, the robotic explorer should be on the lunar surface sometime by 2017; however that is just an estimation in the face of unexpected hurdles causing delays. A problem particularly associated with the task is that Rocket Lab's Electron which will help maneuver the lander has still not been tested to fly. The company is going through the required preparations at the moment to ensure that the test flight phases are undergone smoothly; however the days to the mission are reportedly ticking especially because the time frame for Google's award ends during the latter part of 2017.

At the moment, all eyes are on Moon Express because getting approval to do something and completing it successfully are entirely different things, and the lander still has to make a journey of approximately 238,900 miles before it actually makes interplanetary history. However, on the positive side, the company is still the first private firm to get government approval to launch a moon mission, a move that also opens doors for other such ventures in the future.

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