Moon Express cleared for lunar landing
Moon Express has become the first private firm to win US approval for an unmanned mission to the moon. The two-week mission was given the go-ahead by the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. The plan is to send a suitcase-sized lander to the moon in late 2017.
The lander, which is not yet completed, will be carried on a rocket made by Rocket Lab, a start-up firm which has not launched any commercial missions. Science experiments and some commercial cargo will be carried on the one-way trip to the lunar surface. Moon Express also plans to beam pictures back to the Earth.
"The Moon Express 2017 mission approval is a landmark decision by the US government and a pathfinder for private sector commercial missions beyond Earth's orbit," said Moon Express co-founder Bob Richards.
His partner, Naveen Jain, says the company is keen to explore the possibilities of mining on the moon.
"In the immediate future we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth," he said. Mr Jain, was born in India, but moved to the US in 1979 where he worked in the technology industry and founded technology firms.
Co-founder Bob Richards is a Canadian-born space entrepreneur, and the firm's third founder is entrepreneur Barney Pell. Moon Express is one of the teams competing for the Lunar X Prize, which was set up in 2007.
There is a $20m prize, funded by Google, for the first commercial group to land a probe on the moon. So far only government missions have flown spacecraft beyond the Earth's orbit, with the Chinese completing the most recent visits to the moon.
In December 2013 China landed a rover on the moon as part of its Chang'e-3 mission - the first "soft" landing on the Moon since 1976. Other private companies are expected to follow Moon Express and seek permission to fly to the Moon.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX plans to go even further, with a Mars mission in 2018.
Lunar X Prize