By: Kayleigh Yerdon, Cornell University If you haven’t heard of the Google Lunar XPRIZE yet, you can (and really should) read up about it here. The competition, which started in 2007, is nearing its culmination in 2017 and it’s almost certain to get tons of media coverage. When the competition began, 29 individual teams from 16 different countries took Google’s seemingly impossible challenge: to land a privately funded rover on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send high definition videos and pictures back to Earth. No big deal. With all of that, the grand prize of up to $30 million seems like the least to worry about.
So far, 4 of the 16 teams remaining have proposed plans for launches to the moon. But, as is the case with many things, there are countless hurdles that these teams will need to jump before their plans can become reality. One of the most important obstacles for the Lunar X teams is getting approval to conduct commercial space activities beyond the Earth’s orbit – literally receiving permission to conduct their business on the moon. That seems pretty vital to the entire competition, if you ask me. But, vital and simple don’t always go hand in hand. In fact, no private corporation has ever been given permission to operate on the moon. Instead, companies have always been limited to operations within the Earth’s orbit.
Until last week, that is. Last week, one of the Lunar X competitors – a privately held company from Silicon Valley called Moon Express – received a milestone judgment, becoming the first private company ever to receive permission to go to the moon. After months of presenting plans to the US government, they were finally approved to launch in 2017.
If Moon Express continues to live up to the dreams of the Google Lunar X competition creators, it could be the fourth entity in history to soft-land on the “Earth’s eighth continent.” The fourth entity ever. On a list behind the US, USSR, and China. Think about that. What could be the implications of having a corporation added to this list of nations that were all superpowers at the time of their missions?
First and foremost, the implications for Google could be huge. Realistically, if even one of the proposed Lunar X missions – Moon Express looking very promising at the moment – lands on the moon and completes its imaging tasks, Google will see nothing but high praise for its competition idea and its forward thinking.
Furthermore, its possible that the technology and space travel companies involved in both the creation and the launches of the rover(s) being sent could see major long term profits. What if it becomes a common thing for corporations to have “moon aspirations?” Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain believes that corporate moon aspirations are no different from the founding of Snapchat or Pokémon Go, stating that, “we just don’t know what the thing is for the space industry yet.” But, if Moon Express’ mission is successful in 2017, the various technology companies responsible for turning “moon aspirations” into reality could see very bright futures.
Lastly, Moon Express itself is a little different. Instead of simply following Google’s competition rules and taking images of the moon, the company has gone farther and plans to begin mining the moon. Eventually, Moon Express plans to perform round-trip missions, create a fuel depot on the surface of the moon, and bring back resources to the Earth. Sound crazy? Yeah, Moon Express would essentially be creating it’s own industry!
While some of these plans sound (literally and figuratively) out of this world to us as investors right now, the honest answer is that we don’t know what is to come. With each passing year, corporate “moon aspirations” have become more and more achievable and Moon Express may be on the verge of achieving those dreams within the next year. Until then, the most we can do is watch Google’s stock and those of other affiliated technology companies, keep an eye on the plans for the Moon Express launch, and consider the implications of future business on the Earth’s “eighth continent.”