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Japan’s Team Hakuto is testing two small rovers known as Tetris (left foreground) and Moonraker (right background). The rovers would ride along with Team Indus’ spacecraft. (Team Hakuto Photo)

The rocketeers on Japan’s Team Hakuto say they’ve gotten the Google Lunar XPRIZE’s seal of approval on its plans for a mission to the moon.

The XPRIZE verification of Team Hakuto’s launch agreement with India’s Team Indus boosts the number of approved competitors to five. That includes Team Indus as well as Moon Express, Synergy Moon and SpaceIL.

“The Google Lunar XPRIZE has always pushed us beyond our limits” Takeshi Hakamada, Team Hakuto’s leader, said in today’s news release. “We will continue to challenge ourselves next year and choose an optimal path to reach the moon.”

Team Hakuto is run by a Tokyo-based startup called ispace, and draws upon expertise from faculty and students at Tohoku University.

The team’s arrangement calls for sharing a ride to the moon with Team Indus, a competitor, on a PSLV launch vehicle to be sent up from Satish Dhawan Space Center in India around Dec. 28, 2017. That’s just a few days before the deadline for winning a share of the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE purse.

A grand prize of $20 million awaits the first XPRIZE team to send a spacecraft to the surface to the moon, have it travel at least 500 meters and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. But the feat has to be done by the end of 2017, and the team has to have a verified launch contract by the end of this month.

Rideshare agreements such as the one between Hakuto and Indus let teams join forces to finance their spacecraft’s journey to the moon, while leaving them free to compete on the lunar surface.

Some of the 16 teams in the competition won’t hit this month’s deadline. One of the companies that had been favored to win, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, says that it’s run out of time and is dropping out of the contest. It will continue to work on commercial moon missions, however.

“We intend to fly our first mission when our customers and technology are ready in 2019,” Astrobotic’s chief executive, John Thornton, said in a commentary published by Space News.

PTScientists, an XPRIZE team headquartered in Berlin, says it’s in the process of getting a rideshare launch contract with Seattle-based Spaceflight verified by the XPRIZE organizers.

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