CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - The Federal Aviation Administration has approved the first first private company, Moon Express, to land a spacecraft on the Moon.
"The FAA has determined that the launch of the payload does not jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States," the federal agency stated on Wednesday.
Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty signed by the United States, Soviet Union, and United Kingdom, requires that “The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty.”
The FAA consulted with the Department of State as to the relevant portions of the Treaty and considered comments from the Department as part of the payload determination. The FAA and Department of State concluded that Moon Express' proposed missions are in compliance with Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty. However, the FAA noted that this determination does not extend to future missions by Moon Express, Inc. or similar missions from other entities. Any future requests for a payload determination from Moon Express or another entity will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Moon Express plans to launch three robotic spacecraft to land on the Moon starting in 2017. But the missions will not disturb and historic Apollo landing sites. In 2012, NASA issued a detailed publication titled: "NASA’s Recommendations to Space-Faring Entities: How to Protect and Preserve the Historic and Scientific Value of U.S. Government Lunar Artifacts" which lays out recommendations to future lunar missions where not to go, or disturb, prior U.S. Lunar Mission sites.
"NASA recognizes the steadily increasing technical capabilities of space-faring commercial entities and nations throughout the world, and further recognizes that many are on the verge of landing spacecraft on the surface of the moon," the U.S. space agency noted in the publication. "In the 50 years since the first lunar missions, the spaceflight community has not formally provided recommendations to the next generation of lunar explorers on how to preserve the original artifacts and protect ongoing science from the potentially damaging effects of nearby landers."
Moon Express said the the company is focused on building a sustainable, full-service space exploration business, is also pursuing the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition to land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters and transmit back high-definition video and images to Earth. The company was awarded $1 million by Google earlier this year as the only team to flight test a prototype of its lander.
"Our goal is to blaze a trail to the Moon to unlock its mysteries and resources so we can improve life on Earth," said Moon Express Co-Founder and CEO Bob Richards.