Israeli-based Team SpaceIL has signed up to launch a robotic lander to the moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the latter half of 2017, thanks to an arrangement with Seattle-based Spaceflight.
SpaceIL will be a “co-lead” customer for the launch, the organizers of the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition said in a news release on Wednesday. That makes SpaceIL the first team to provide official verification of its launch contract, and confirms that efforts to put the first privately funded spacecraft on the moon by the end of 2017 will be an honest-to-goodness competition.
“The magnitude of this achievement cannot be overstated, representing an unprecedented and monumental commitment for a privately funded organization, and kicks off an exciting phase of the competition in which the other 15 teams now have until the end of 2016 to produce their own verified launch contracts,” said Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of X Prize. “It gives all of us at XPRIZE and Google the great pride to say, ‘The new space race is on!'”
Two other teams — California-based Moon Express and Pennsylvania-based Astrobotic — have announced plans to send their own probes to the moon before the contest’s 2017 deadline, but they still have to have launch contracts verified. Under the X Prize rules, at least one team had to verify its contract by the end of this year to allow the Google-backed competition to proceed.
SpaceIL laid out its mission plans on Wednesday during a news conference in Jerusalem, attended by Weiss and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. The team aims to send a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) lander on a looping trajectory to the moon, and then have it hop on the surface while sending imagery back to Earth.
Just last week, Spaceflight announced that it had secured a SpaceX launch in 2017 to put a variety of small satellites into Earth orbit. Wednesday’s announcement confirms that SpaceIL’s lander will be one of the prime payloads.