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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 14:01 GMT 15:01 UK
Moon opens for business
Bootprint on the Moon, AP
The private missions will follow in famous footsteps

The first private Moon landing has finally been given the green light by the US Government.

TransOrbital of California has become the first private company in the history of spaceflight to gain approval from the US authorities to explore, photograph and land on the Moon.

The US State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have granted the company permission to send its TrailBlazer spacecraft into lunar orbit.

The launch is set for June 2003 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Moon rush

The decision to let TransOrbital launch its lunar mission could spell the beginning of the commercialisation of the Moon.

"The Moon is ripe for commercial development," said Dennis Laurie, of TransOrbital.

"It's a lot closer than you think, at least in travel time, which is four days."

Winning permission took TransOrbital more than two years. To get federal blessing it had to prove the Trailblazer satellite would not contaminate the Moon with biological material, pollute the lunar surface or disturb previous landing sites.

Trailblazer mock-up, TransOrbital
Artist's impression of Trailblazer satellite
In the long term, TransOrbital wants to develop communications and navigation systems for lunar exploration.

"The cost of Moon travel will be coming down and opportunities going up," says Mr Laurie.

Several other private companies are pursuing Moon missions. LunaCorp of Virginia also wants to put a satellite into lunar orbit in 2003.

TransOrbital and LunaCorp hope to find the money for their missions by selling pictures and video taken by their spacecraft. One use of their images could be for immersive video games that give players the feel of going to the Moon and back.

'Significant moment'

Trailblazer will provide high-definition video as well as maps of the lunar surface (at one-metre resolution), as well as new images of Earthrise over lunar terrain.


People will soon get to experience the moon in ways they never imagined

Dennis Laurie, TransOrbital
After 90 days the mission will end with the delivery of a time capsule to the lunar surface. It will contain messages, photographs and memorabilia.

The cost to the public to send something to the lunar surface is $2,500 (1,600) a gram.

In addition, the Trailblazer mission should provide the opportunity to photograph the equipment left behind by past Apollo and Russian landings putting an end to suspicions that the Moon landings were faked.

Beyond the orbital missions, TransOrbital and Lunacorp have plans for lunar landers and rovers.

TransOrbital says it has the technology, the desire and now the licensing.

"It's a significant moment for our company," says Dennis Laurie. "People will soon get to experience the Moon in ways they never imagined."

See also:

16 Jul 99 | The moon landing
04 Sep 98 | Science/Nature
27 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
29 May 02 | Science/Nature
27 May 02 | Breakfast
21 May 02 | Science/Nature
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