If you're planning to be the next Gina Rinehart-in-space, best get in quick. Moon Express, a Florida company hoping to get into the lunar resource extraction business, has become the first private company authorised for a moon landing by the US government. They're supported by Rocket Lab - an NZ-founded company that launches in New Zealand - who are providing the rockets to get the Moon Express lander into space.
At the moment, Moon Express are just hoping to test a landing on the Moon's surface, and pick up a US$20 million prize from Google for the first (non-government) robot to land on the Moon, travel 500 meters and send back hi-def video. Not too sinister.
But if Moon Express want, they don't have to stop with a test run. International space lawyers (outstanding job title) can't agree on whether or not mining the Moon is allowed under international law, but can agree that there's a lack of legal clarity. The United Nations has a "Moon Agreement" - though neither the US or New Zealand have signed - which suggests that nations should decide on rules for who can take advantage of lunar resources. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. The United States SPACE Act, though, as of last year, explicitly allows US citizens to take resources from the Moon and other terrestrial bodies.
Even if there's a case for some free enterprise in space, and though Moon Express doesn't give off super-villain vibes, giving companies free license to exploit space resources seems like a dangerous precedent. Without any real regulation or system of property rights, a laissez-faire approach encourages taking as much as companies can carry without regard for the lunar environment. Good for the US? Definitely. Good for science and the economy? Probably. Good for humankind? We'll see.
The U.S. government has officially approved the planned 2017 robotic lunar landing of Florida-based Moon Express, which aims to fly commercial missions to Earth's nearest neighbor and help exploit its resources, company representatives announced today (Aug. 3).