The first commercial launch to the moon is still in the future. However, the outlines of a commercial lunar sector are starting to take shape. Moon Express, a company that proposes to carry both government and private payloads to the lunar surface, has entered into a partnership with Nanoracks. Nanoracks is a company that already facilitates the running of experiments and the launching of CubeSats from the international space station for small business and academic customers. The company now proposes to do the same service for payloads intended for the moon.

What does Moon Express get out of the deal?

Nanoracks already has a track record for providing payload services for the ISS as well as a good working relationship with NASA. By having the Houston based company handle the marketing and Technical Support for payloads intended for the lunar surface, Moon Express has dramatically expanded its potential customer base. The Florida based lunar transportation company has already contracted for three launches to be provided by the American New Zealand company Rocket Lab. If Moon Express is successful, it has every opportunity to forge a thriving lunar transportation business with Nanorack’s assistance.

What does Nanoracks get out of the deal?

Nanoracks has been anxious to expand its business beyond the International Space Station, Getting in on the commercial push to the moon and beyond is an excellent way to accomplish this strategic goal.

The Moon Express partnership is a way to prove the company’s expertise in handling payloads that are destined for other worlds. A successful enterprise with the lunar transportation company would almost certainly lead to more business. Nanoracks could, for example, pick up a lot of business from SpaceX’s push toward Mars in the 2020s.

The bottom line

A number of factors are converging that point for a worldwide push back to the moon. The renewed interest by NASA for a return to the lunar surface, facilitated by the Trump administration, is just one aspect of that phenomenon. Commercial companies like Moon Express are taking advantage of lower launch costs to mount missions to the moon for profit.

The commercial moon race is likely to develop synergies with NASA and other national space agencies such as the European Space Agency.

NASA will benefit from alliances with companies like Moon Express because they will provide low-cost alternatives to mount lunar missions. Commercial enterprises benefit because NASA can provide a core market for their services, allowing them to grow and provide services for commercial customers. Thus the push to the moon is not Apollo 2.0 but rather a marriage of the spirit of Apollo with entrepreneurism so that the whole will be greater than each would have been separate.