for National Geographic News
A satellite whose creators hope will be the envy of NASCAR is slated to deliver business cards, personal notes, fine jewels, and cremated human remains to the surface of the moon later this year.
The mission is a commercial enterprise of TransOrbital, Inc., a company based in La Jolla, California. The company's logo-plastered satellite will capture detailed video and photographs of the moon's surface and crash-land a capsule full of personal mementos on the moon's surface.
The launch, scheduled for October, is just the beginning of company's commercial designs on the moon.
"What I'm looking for is the opportunity to create commercial enterprise with the moon as its focus point," said Dennis Laurie, president of TransOrbital.
Laurie's vision of the moon's business potential includes a staging area for exploration of other planets and moons and the ultimate data backup system for Earth-bound computer information systems. Laurie envisions the latter as a type of communications server that could retrieve and store information free from Earth-borne disruptions.
The company's Trailblazer mission will launch from a former Russian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) modified for commercial space flight. It is the first of many private space missions TransOrbital plans for the near future.
The firm has a US $20 million contract to launch missions for the next three years with International Space Company Kosmotras, a Russian-Ukraine firm that has authorization to use decommissioned ICBMs.
"Five years ago that rocket had a warhead on it and was probably aimed at the U.S.," said Laurie.
Permission to Fly
TransOrbital is the first and only commercial company licensed by the U.S. Department of State and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for private sector flights to the moon.
Even though the U.S. government agencies do not have legal authority to regulate lunar commercial enterprises, they do have strict control over the ability to get off planet Earth with a rocket, said Laurie, who noted the complex licensing processing required by the agencies for commercial space flight. "You have to be detailed with what you are doing, where, and what for," he said.
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