At the same time, INFN and the University of Maryland will plant new retroreflectors on the moon, called "Moonlight," which will allow for more accurate measurements of the Earth-moon distance and test general relativity and other theories of gravity. These instruments work as laser pulses are sent from a telescope on Earth to the retroreflector array on the moon.
Unlike the older, NASA Apollo moon missions, the Moon Express mission will be a fraction of the cost. The company will be using its robotic MX-IE lunar lander on Rocket Lab USA's Electron rocket. According to Jain, the smaller rocket costs under $5 million for a launch. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket can cost in excess of $50 million for a launch, Jain said. That represents a significant discount from legacy pricing in the aerospace industry, which can be as high as $100 million per launch, according to published reports.
The contract gives Moon Express the option of launching from its recently acquired site Space Launch Complex 17 and 18 in Cape Canaveral, or Rocket Lab's launch site in New Zealand. According to Richards, the company expects the first mission will launch from New Zealand.
American space experts are hopeful the government ruling will stoke moon exploration at a time when competition is heating up with China. In 2013, China became the third nation to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon with their Chang'e 3 lander. Next year, its Chang'e 5 mission is slated to bring back moon samples. China has expressed intentions to explore the moon for resources including fusion-ready helium-3.
Pell — who had a long career at NASA building artificial intelligence systems for NASA missions before becoming an entrepreneur — sees the moon as a great business opportunity. Thanks to exponential technology advancements, accessing this "eighth continent" has become economically feasible.
As he sees it: "This should have a positive impact on the world and offers new paths for the future of humanity."