back to article Private moonshot gets the green light from US authorities

The United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has cleared private moon-shot aspirant Moon Express for a 2017 lift-off. Moon Express says the approval makes it the first private company to venture beyond Earth orbit. It's not entirely right: in 1997 a communications satellite called AsiaSat 3 missed its intended …

  1. Khaptain Silver badge
    Flame

    Which moon

    I wonder if it will be Spielberg that replaces on Stanley Kubrick for the video production ?

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Which moon

      Trick question since Stanley Kubrick never died. He has spent the last 17 years building his Mars landing set.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Which moon

        anybody got any high resolution stills (down to the sq cm) of the sea of tranquility?

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Which moon

          "anybody got any high resolution stills (down to the sq cm) of the sea of tranquility?"

          Yes. Apollo 11.

        2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

          Re: Which moon

          Not down to cm resolution, but the pics from NASA's LRO are good enough for me.

          1. Olafthemighty
            Black Helicopters

            Re: Which moon

            I note the presence of what appear to be several Somebody Else's Problem fields on those photos (I'm assuming that's what all the SEP's are, anyway) - there must be something we're not being told!

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the Moon is a potential future source of rare earths"

    They're going to have to find a way to deal with the very fine Moon dust if they want machinery to work in that environment.

    1. Mike Shepherd
      Happy

      Re: "the Moon is a potential future source of rare earths"

      Interesting that Arthur C Clarke wrote about the possible hazards of moon dust in 1961.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "We return"

    Boo, just* another robotic mission.

    I want to see lunar-buggy racing on ESPN !

    * not that it is easy to do.

  4. Winkypop Silver badge
    Alien

    Just goes to show...

    How dang difficult and amazing it was when Apollo took 12 men to and fro in the 60's and 70's.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken
      Coat

      Re: Just goes to show...

      IIRC, one of the ingredients was Nazis with slide rules.

      Mine's the one with the Tom Lehrer tape in the pocket.

      1. Alistair Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Just goes to show...

        @atcsnwt

        I have the vinyl. Still plays, although its a bit poppy and fuzzy. I now have a 10 year old that can sing the elements. Mission accomplished.

        harve an hupvote.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Just goes to show...

        Tom Lehrer is an underappreciated genius.

        Made sure my kids knew about him, Monty Python, JRR Tolkein and Mel Brooks.

        They've figured out the rest on their own.

    2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Just goes to show...

      "...Apollo took 12 men to and fro..."

      The 'to and fro' was a total of 24 men (27 occupied seats, 3 went twice).

      It's my opinion that 24 men went 'to' the Moon (3 twice), and 12 of those (a subset) 'walked' on the Moon. After all, if we're going to use the highly specific term 'walk' for those 'Moonwalkers' that walked on the Moon, then the term 'to' (the Moon) is free for use to describe the larger set of 24.

      It's horrifically bad manners to ignore those other 12 men that certainly went 'to' the Moon, but didn't 'walk' on it. Wonderful people like Mike Collins and Jim Lovell (etc.). e.g. Jim Lovell has been 'to' the Moon twice, but never 'walked' on it.

      It's a subtle semantic point, but seems crystal clear to me.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Just goes to show...

        By the way, I suspect that Jim Lovell is the person that's been further from the Earth than anyone else.

        Apollo 13's free return trajectory was the further craft. Everybody knows that.

        But it's also been noted that the other two rookies had their noses pressed up against the Moon side window. So Jim was presumably loitering on the other side of the craft, further away at correct moment.

        Jim Lovell, the person that's been further from the Earth than anyone else.

  5. Shane McCarrick

    Is it just me?

    Why did they need permission from the US to make a trip to the moon?

    What extraterritorial claim is the US trying to enforce on our planets natural satellite?

    I thought the company who are supply the rockets etc are from New Zealand- and a shedload of the tech is European (predominantly but not exclusively ESA funded tech).

    How or why is the US granting authority for the trip- when outer space is supposed to be governed by UN Charter?

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Is it just me?

      I wondered this, but it's possible that they want to poke a hole in the sky over the US, hence the FAA 'approval'- just like the one LOHAN is still waiting for...

    2. redav

      Re: Is it just me?

      The Outer Space Treaty says "the activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty". Moon Express is a US based company - so I guess the US thinks they're the appropriate State Party.

      1. billse10

        Re: Is it just me?

        "I guess the US thinks they're the appropriate State Party."

        quelle surprise

        1. cray74

          Re: Is it just me?

          quelle surprise

          An American company builds a probe in America partly with a NASA contract. The US doesn't need the Outer Space Treaty to get involved, it's got domestic laws regarding export-sensitive technologies and operating spacecraft.

          I was going to say "The Electron launch vehicles are New Zealand's issue to regulate," but apparently that's being built by a US-owned company, Rocket Lab. The technology export issue is probably a headache for them, too.

  6. lglethal Silver badge
    WTF?

    Rare Earths really?

    Rare Earths are not actually that rare. There's been plenty of articles on this very topic here on El Reg. Sure China produces most of them for now, but if they try to raise the costs people will just set up their own facilities. It's not even that expensive to do.

    Seem a strange thing to target...

    1. malle-herbert
      Trollface

      Re: Rare Earths really?

      And they wouldn't really be 'rare earths' since they come from the moon...

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Rare Earths really?

        I'm assuming they mean 'earths' in the sense of soil, not the planet.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Rare Earths really?

      Not only are they not rare, the difficulty in mining them is separating them from worthless material as well as from each other. Quite how they will do that on the moon with only solar power available and little water and no chemicals, I'm not sure. They can't transport unrefined material back home, too small of a 'good stuff to crap' ratio.

      There must be something we're missing here. Either we're wrong about the economics and something about it makes sense, they're purposefully misleading people about the real reason they want to go to the moon, or Donald Trump is the main investor. Maybe they watched that episode of Ancient Aliens where they talked about all the alien artifacts on the moon - though the conspiracy theory that suggests NASA and the rest of the government is complicit in hiding this would presumably prevent them from going. :)

      Pity that Tim Worstall isn't still at the Reg, I'm sure he'd have some comment on this seemingly crazy idea.

      1. weegie38

        Re: Rare Earths really?

        "There must be something we're missing here."

        Yes. They're after the Helium 3.

        If my name was Sam Bell, I'd be watching this operation very closely...

        1. Down not across Silver badge

          Re: Rare Earths really?

          "There must be something we're missing here."

          Yes. They're after the Helium 3.

          Kortzfleisch will be pleased. Doktor Richter willl get some new parts for Götterdämmerung.

      2. Killing Time

        Re: Rare Earths really?

        Perhaps the suggested search for rare earths is a blind for a search for precious metals.

        The moon has been bombarded with metallic asteroids as long as the Earth has, however the Moon has no atmosphere to vaporise them on the way in and subsequently spread the material or tectonic activity to subsume the material when it arrives, into the lower crust.

        When there is private money involved you can bet your house there is a business case.

        http://www.space.com/28189-moon-mining-economic-feasibility.html

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Rare Earths really?

        "Pity that Tim Worstall isn't still at the Reg, I'm sure he'd have some comment on this seemingly crazy idea."

        Seconded. Don't El Reg use freelancers? Or does Tim have an exclusivity clause elsewhere?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Memorial Flight

    Lester would have loved this, can we start a campaign to at least get his name flown to the moon on this flight?

    1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Memorial Flight

      Excellent idea.

      And, in the interest of ecological responsibility, I volunteer to go and help collect some of the rubbish the US left the last time they visited. I'll start with all those carelessly discarded Hasselblads.

  8. leon clarke

    Remarkably small rocket

    I had to google the Rocket Labs Electron - it can get 150kg into a 500km sun-synchronous orbit according to Wikipedia. They're one of the bunch of companies going for the small satellite market.

    Now I appreciate that a one-way robot trip to the moon will be a lot easier than a manned mission, but it's still impressive that a moonshot needs an exceptionally small and cheap rocket these days.

  9. Henry 2

    The Moon orbits the Earth, so a moon shot is hardly venturing "beyond Earth orbit".

    1. Andy Taylor
      Coat

      Surely that depends if the Moon is closer to the Sun or further away when they visit.

    2. james 68

      @Henry 2

      The moon and the earth orbit each other, but otherwise yeah, not outside of earth orbit which goes out rather a long way and really depends on the speed of the object and interference from other large celestial bodies.

  10. PaulyV

    Couldn't think of an original logo?

    Emu Systems beat you to it in '87.

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-LuTGoW2xeRI/TeEth1nC4PI/AAAAAAACg2c/4XLkGhEgOk8/s1600/emu4.jpg

  11. Alistair Silver badge
    Coat

    hrm

    This simply sounds like the typical driver in north america.

    I GOT THERE FIRST.

    Mind you knowing there's a $30M payoff at the end of the drive might make them willing to put a little more in the pot to get there first.

    Processing rare earth materials on earth is affected somewhat by our atmosphere. I'm no geophysicist, but other than the He3, I rather suspect that one or two of the rare earth bits will be easier to fraction in near vacuum, at the very least it will substantially change the processing requirements. And then, well, there aren't all these ecological surveys, protection rules and cleanup requirements. I seem to recall that there's a *reason* China is out in front on the rare earths production bits....

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: hrm

      "And then, well, there aren't all these ecological surveys, protection rules and cleanup requirements. I seem to recall that there's a *reason* China is out in front on the rare earths production bits..."

      You're right about that but I don't think the economics of of a moonshot stack up against that just yet. Maybe a fully reusable Falcon8 heavy might lower the costs enough if you're right about "easy" processing of some rare earths.

  12. AndrueC Silver badge
    Go

    The company thinks that the Moon is a potential future source of rare earths, the substances so prized for manufacture of electronic devices, and hopes to find a way to return them to Earth

    You should be careful about getting things back from Moon to Earth because The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

  13. John Crisp

    The dark side

    If they are going to mine at least do it on the other side where it won't ruin the vista.

    I dread to think of the mess these cretins will make for our descendants to stare at in the name of 'growth' and 'progress'

  14. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    "Moon Express says the approval makes it the first private company to venture beyond Earth orbit."

    Counting chickens early?

  15. Brian Allan 1

    What a bunch of B.S.! Getting US approval for a moon shot!? I'm sure Russia, China, India, North Korea, etc. will be lining up for US approval... Utter nonsense!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    HTSCs

    I am writing a scientific paper at the moment which explores the possibility that some isotopes of heavy metals not found on Earth (notably bismuth and barium) could allow materials to be made that superconduct at well above 200K without the expense and complexity of enrichment.

    This would be a game changer for many industries notably quantum computers power generation and transmission as no bulky and expensive cryo-coolers would be needed.

    Simple cooled hydrogen would suffice as both a coolant and energy transmission medium with low cost copper or stainless magnesium (a new discovery in 2016) replacing more expensive silver in the coils.

    Interestingly the original discovery of LaBaCuO might well have been a fluke, caused by only that one key isotope of barium and YBCO would never have been found if it hadn't shown up during testing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: HTSCs

      If superconductor materials are identified above 200K then surely liquid Nitrogen would provide the necessary cooling with a boiling point of 77K? It is far more abundant, inert, and easily transportable.

      Not really with you on how cooled H2 would be the 'energy transmission medium' when that is the purpose of the superconductor material.

      You may want to reread and edit your paper.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: HTSCs

        No, this wasn't a typo. N2/H2 mix would also work and the 77K limit has long since been breached with the latest record for cuprates in the 155K (2015) and 212K in compressed H2S at gigapascal pressures.

        The reason for using such a high Tc material is that if the LN2 heats up then it does not quench under the tens of thousands of amps current until it gets about 30K below the Tc.

        As the flammability limit for hydrogen is quite high (IIRC >20%) setting the limit lower than this would ensure that a leak would be a minor inconvenience rather than a catastrophe.

  17. Ru'
    Holmes

    Surely they're after all of the cheese?

  18. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Moon Zero Two

    Is it me is there a resemblance between Luna 02 and Moon Zero Two?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064691/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

  19. JCitizen
    Holmes

    Need a return method to Earth?

    Now I can finally see a Trans-Linear Accelerator as useful for this mining. It requires only the solar electricity to ramp up the buckets to hurl packages into moon orbit - another system can pick them up from there. I can envision a traveling circuit of "trucks" moving material back to earth and to the moon again, needing very little fuel, and never needing to land. The packages would have to be coated in some kind of moon based heat resistant material though, so it could survive the entry into Earth's atmosphere - the rest is just good orbital mechanics and artillery science.

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