Israeli Google Lunar X Prize team one step further to landing on the moon

Artist's rendering of the SpaceIL lunar spacecraft. GOOGLE LUNAR XPRIZE PHOTO

Organizers of the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) space competition announced today that a team of Israeli engineers are the first to advance in the contest after formally securing their contract. 

As the Associated Press reports, SpaceIL, the Israeli non-profit working tirelessly to send an Israeli spacecraft to the moon, has officially signed a contract with SpaceX, an American aerospace manufacturer, to launch an unmanned spacecraft into orbit. The contract is essentially the first step in SpaceIL’s lengthy trajectory, and bringing the Israeli team that much closer to winning the $20 million grand prize.

GLXP, organized by the XPRIZE foundation and sponsored by Google, is meant to “incentivize space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the moon and beyond.”

Per the GLXP website:

The competition’s $30 million prize purse will be awarded to teams who are able to land a privately funded rover on the moon, travel 500 metres, and transmit back high definition video and images. The first team that successfully completes this mission will be awarded the $20 million dollar Grand Prize. The second team to successfully complete the mission will be awarded $5 million dollars. To win either of these prizes, teams must prove that 90% of their mission costs were funded by private sources. Teams have until the end of 2016 to announce a verified launch contract to remain in the competition and complete their mission by the end of 2017.

“We wanted the everyday man and woman to know that they could be innovators. They could literally build a spacecraft at their university or in their garages,” Chanda Gonzales, senior director of the GLXP contest, told the Associated Press. “You don’t have to be NASA.”

According to Gonzales, SpaceIL is the first of 16 competing teams (including the United States, Malaysia, Italy, Japan, Germany, Hungary, Brazil, Canada, Chile and India) to have finalized a contract with a launch provider, as well as approve all technical and financial details with GLXP. The Israeli spacecraft is expected to launch sometime in the second half of 2017. 

While two American companies — Astrobotic Technology Inc. and Moon Express — have recently secured launch contracts, they have yet to submit their agreements for approval.

In the wake of Google’s announcement, SpaceIL revealed an artist rendering of its spacecraft design at a conference at the Israeli president’s residence in Jerusalem (see photo above).

"Only three countries have 'soft-landed' a rover on the surface of the moon: the United States, the former Soviet Union and China. Now, the notion of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list looks more promising than ever," SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman said in an official statement.

"Last year, we made significant strides toward landing on the moon, both in terms of project financing and in terms of the engineering design and now, we are thrilled to finally secure our launch agreement,” he continued. "This takes us one huge step closer to realise our vision of recreating an 'Apollo effect' in Israel: to inspire a new generation to pursue science, engineering, technology, and math(s)."

Ilan Ramon would be proud.