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In a first, a private, Indian-American owned spaceflight company got approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to launch a commercial robotic lander to the moon. Also Read - Indian-American Student Wins Prestigious Award for Developing Eco-friendly Foam Alternative
Florida-based Moon Express announced the federal approval on Wednesday. The company will unveil its spacecraft, MX-1, which they aim to send to the moon by the end of 2017, in September. Naveen Jain, the co-founder and chairman of Moon Express, called the US government’s approval for the MX1-E moon lander “another giant leap for humanity.” Also Read - Joe Biden to Deliver Forward-looking Inaugural Speech Written by Indian-American Vinay Reddy
“The sky is not the limit for Moon Express -it is the launch pad,” he said. “Space is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children.”
In 2010, Jain, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology-Roorkee and XLRI Jamshedpur, founded Moon Express—which is also backed by Khosla Ventures by Indian American venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla.
“In the immediate future we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to the Earth,” Jain said on his company’s website.
Moon Express Co-founder and CEO Bob Richards cited the discovery of water on the moon, accomplished by the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft with ISRO’s Moon Impact Probe (MIP) and NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3), as an incentive for their lunar venture.
“The recent discovery of water on the moon is an economic game changer for humanity’s future,” he said. “Water is the oil of the solar system and the moon has become a gas station in the sky.”
The company navigated the complex web of federal approval including state Department, NASA, and FAA to ride MX-1 to the moon orbit on a space vehicle from Rocket Lab USA. Moon Express needed the FAA approval because the Outer Space Treaty requires private ventures to be authorized by a government body that has signed the treaty.
In their fact sheet, released on August 3, the FAA described the MX-1 as a “spacecraft/lander capable of transfer from Earth orbit to the Moon, making a soft landing on the lunar surface, and performing post-landing relocations through propulsive ‘hops.’”
While on the moon, Moon Express lander will also try to win a $20 million bounty offered by Google as part of the Lunar XPRIZE—an unprecedented competition to encourage robotic space exploration. To win, a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and images back to the Earth.
Jain’s company has already won two preliminary XPRIZE awards for demonstrating its technological capability to land on the moon and send images. The awards are the $1 million Landing Prize and the $250,000 Imaging Prize.
“In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of earth’s economy, and potentially our second home. Imagine that,” Jain said.