Friday, June 10, 2016

Moon Express Decision Could Jump-Start Privately-Funded Space Exploration

On July 20, 1969, a team of astronauts including Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history when they became the first humans to ever step on the moon. Ever since the late 1950s, the United States has been working on ways to explore our solar system and find out more about other galaxies. In 2011, the Space Program was discontinued, mainly because of the exorbitant costs and inherent danger present in space travel. Up until recently, private companies were still allowed to send up satellites into orbit for commercial and research applications. However, according to Samantha Masunaga's L.A. Times article, the US government may be preparing to grant permission for a company to send a spacecraft to the moon.

Until now, only countries have been allowed/able to conduct space missions beyond Earth's orbit. Moon Express, a Mountain View, California-based company, will set history if regulators grant them permission to send their MX-1 lander on the moon for a two-week operation. The Wall Street Journal seems confident that Moon Express will receive their approval from the Federal Aviation Administration within the next few weeks, potentially restarting the Space Program. In some ways, a Space Program run completely by private companies could be better than one run by the government. When the Space Program first started, it was mainly about national superiority and being the first country to achieve certain milestones, which meant that sometimes costs and risks took a backseat. For private companies, it will be mainly about profit, which means that they will certainly keep within specified budgets and will be more risk-averse.

While Moon Express has been pretty secretive about its major plans, it has released some information about what they're looking for on the moon. The MX-1 lander will be carrying out both scientific and commercial research. Moon Express will be partnering with a Los Angeles-based company called Rocket Lab and plans to blast off into space in 2017. The MX-1 and other moon landers will be looking for valuable resources such as platinum and rare earth elements, which scientists believe can be found on the moon and in asteroids. Another company, Planetary Resources, is looking to asteroids as a source of water that can be converted into rocket fuel.

One of the main regulatory issues standing in the way of Moon Express's exploration is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which states that nongovernmental entities have to get approval from the US and Russia before performing activities in outer space. Experts believe that if Moon Express receives their expected approvals, however, it will set a precedent for future private commercial activity. Several companies dedicated to moon mining and asteroid mining have sprung up in recent years but have not held for very long, probably due to the high-cost, high-risk type of business. However, Moon Express has been generating significant interest in the world of commercial space exploration, and analysts expect this company may be the one to finally jump-start the industry.

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  2. We appreciate the article. However we would like to correct the notion that "the Outer Space Treaty of 1967... states that nongovernmental entities have to get approval from the US and Russia". This is not true. The 1967 OST puts responsibility on each signatory state to ensure compliance of all space activities occurring under its national regime. - Moon Express.