Moon Express given approval for 2017 lunar mission

The FAA and the federal government has granted approval for startup Moon Express to send a mission to the moon. Moon Express intends to launch a small, single-stage spacecraft to land on the Moon by the end of 2017.

Eventually the federal government would like to come up with a standard launch licensing process for deep space missions, but that will probably take a couple of years to finalize. It is not clear whether the FAA would be the lead agency for such missions as well, as it currently is for Earth orbit payloads. In addition to reviewing safety, the government is responsible for ensuring that deep space missions follow proper planetary protecting procedures.

Moon Express isn’t alone in its race against the 2017 deadline. Several international competitors want to win the $20 million first prize that comes with being the first privately developed spacecraft to land on the moon, travel at least half a kilometer across the surface, and return photos and videos. MoonEx has contracted with the New Zealand-based Rocket Lab for a launch on its Electron vehicle.