Today, Moon Express made history as the first private space company to request the U.S government to conduct a payload review of its spacecraft and plans leading to regulatory approval of a commercial mission to the Moon in 2017. Moon Express initiated the review process through a submission to the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST), bringing the company another important step closer to the Moon.
Moon Express’ 2017 lunar mission is an unprecedented privately funded commercial space activity. To date, only government missions have ever ventured to the Moon, Mars, asteroids or other beyond Earth orbit destinations.
As a result of the unique timing and nature of the Moon Express 2017 mission, it additionally serves as a pathfinder and a catalyst for U.S. regulatory processes authorizing private missions beyond Earth orbit. Moon Express has 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.”
“Today we initiated the process by submitting our enhanced payload review application to the FAA to secure timely federal approval for the first commercial mission to the Moon in 2017,” declared Richards.
Moon Express’ proposed ‘Mission Approval’ arrangement utilizes existing payload review and launch license processes under authorities of the Secretary of Transportation, and adds to them a series of voluntary disclosures intended to provide the Federal Government with sufficient information to help fulfill its obligations under the Outer Space Treaty, including the avoidance of harmful interference with existing public or private lunar operations or heritage sites, and respecting conventions of planetary protection applying to the Moon.
“Regulatory uncertainty could become the greatest risk for non-traditional space activities,” said Congressman Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.). “The mission approval framework created by Moon Express is an elegant solution to increase regulatory certainty and comply with treaty obligations. I look forward to building off this proposal in the American Space Renaissance Act, comprehensive space legislation I will be introducing soon.”
The Mission Approval initiative of Moon Express is a natural progression under the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act (CSLA), signed into law by President Obama on November 25th, 2015, making the United States the first nation to explicitly recognize private sector space resource mining rights for abiotic water and minerals obtained from the Moon and other celestial bodies. Both the Obama administration and bipartisan majorities in Congress have supported an increasing role for the private sector in America’s national space endeavors, mandating NASA to utilize commercial partners wherever possible. In keeping with this mandate, NASA selected Moon Express under its Lunar CATALYST program in 2014 to develop new U.S. commercial lander technologies to help return the United States to the surface of the Moon.
The Moon Express application submitted to FAA AST for its 2017 private space mission to the Moon is an interim step toward a new space renaissance of public-private partnerships opening space for peaceful exploration and economic growth. Future legislation providing a clear path for authorization and supervision of new space activities will encourage continued investment in those activities by Moon Express and other companies and foster and promote a robust U.S. commercial space industry in and beyond Earth orbit.