With a $20 million X Prize in play, 16 private companies are vying to be the first to launch a mission to the Moon, and now one of the contenders, Moon Express, may be just weeks away from being the first to gain government approval for its plan. “Until now, only governments have undertaken space missions beyond Earth orbit, so we’ve become a regulatory pathfinder out of necessity,” Moon Express said in a statement. “We are eagerly awaiting a determination.” The FAA is leading a multi-agency review of the plan, and according to CNN, sources said a decision could come as early as this month.
Sixteen teams are vying for the Lunar X Prize, which requires the winner to successfully place a robot on the Moon that will travel at least 500 meters and transmit high-definition images and video back to Earth. The deadline is the end of 2017. Moon Express is based in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The company’s plan, according to The Wall Street Journal, is to launch from a New Zealand site with a 52-foot Electron rocket built by Rocket Lab Ltd. Onboard thrusters then will propel the spacecraft to the Moon, a trip that could take up to several weeks.