Bob Richards, MoonExpress CEO and co-founder said "This is not only a milestone, but really a threshold for the entire commercial space industry." Before MoonExpress, companies were only allowed to operate on or around Earth, and Richards says the exclusive approval his company received may serve as the basis for intergalactic commerce in the future.
"Nobody's had a deep-sea voyage yet." he said, "We're still charting those waters. Somebody had to be first."
The application for the landing was first submitted on April 8 to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It had to be processed through the US Department of Defense, NASA, US State Department, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before being approved.
Richards said the process "took some time, not because anybody was against or averse to this," he said. "It's just that we asked questions that had never been asked before, and that had to be addressed and worked out." Now that the arduous application stage is complete, MoonExpress can focus its energy on the technical and financial challenges the mission will bring.
The 2017 mission will start by launching the the company's MX-1 lander atop a Rocket Lab Electron booster. This is a part of a multi-launch deal MoonExpress signed with Rocket Lab last year.
The purpose of the first launch will be to test how the MX-1 performs on the surface of the moon. Representatives from Moon Express also hope to score a $30 million grant from the Google Lunar X-prize competition to land a privately funded robot on the moon by the end of 2017.
"We're still shooting for the end of 2017," said Richards, "A lot has to go right, but at least we have a shot at our moon shot, given this regulatory approval."
Richard said that if everything goes as planned, MoonExpress will help extract, exploit and asses materials found on the moon like water ice, which he believes will help open new opportunities in the field of space exploration.
Naveen Jain, Moon Express co-founder and Chairman said in a statement Wednesday that "Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children. "In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth. In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth’s economy, and potentially our second home."