Today Moon Express announced that the federal government granted the company authority for a lunar landing in connection with its 2017 lunar mission. This is the first of three planned missions that the company has arranged with Rocket Lab USA for lunar exploration and development. Two of these missions are scheduled for 2017 with the third taking place at an as yet undetermined date.
Moon Express will use the MX-1 lander it has developed. Having received Milestone prizes in landing and imaging from the Lunar X Prize competition (for a prototype lander), the company is working on a mission-ready craft for deployment next year. The company is focused on resource extraction from the Moon, so scientific instruments and experiments are a secondary purpose (or additional income stream). NASA and possibly other organizations may take advantage of this opportunity, should Moon Express be successful.
Moon Express is not alone in trying to reach the moon. The Lunar X Prize is still in the competition phase, and of the 16 teams still in it, Moon Express is a leading contender to take the Grand Prize. It would need to successfully land on the moon, travel at least 500 meters, and send back HD quality video (Moon Express plans to send a telescope, but may have other video options for the lander).
It’s worth noting that SpaceX would need to obtain similar approval from the government for its planned missions to Mars. This is required under the Outer Space Treaty, which makes member states responsible for all space activities by both governmental and non-governmental organizations.