Israeli Team Signs First Launch Agreement In Google Lunar XPRIZE Competition
Private space travel is moving closer to reality, and an Israeli team has staked its claim in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.
SpaceIL, an Israel-based non-profit working to land a spacecraft on the moon, became the first team to produce a launch contract in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. XPRIZE announced SpaceIL’s verified contract at a press conference in Jerusalem attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, and Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE. The “ticket to the moon” also marks the world’s first private lunar mission and Israel’s first moon mission.
“We are proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of SpaceIL’s launch contract, positioning them as the first and only Google Lunar XPRIZE team to demonstrate this important achievement, thus far,” said Weiss. He said the achievement represented a major commitment for a privately-funded organization.
XPRIZE Incentivizes Space Entrepreneurs
The Google Lunar XPRIZE, created in 2007, incentivizes entrepreneurs to create affordable access to the moon and beyond.
The competition awards $30 million to teams who can land a privately-funded rover on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send high-definition video and images, according to XPRIZE.
The first team to complete the mission wins $20 million. The second team gets $5 million. Teams must prove private sources covered 90% of their mission costs. The teams have until the end of 2016 to announce a contract to launch a spacecraft. Teams must complete their missions by the end of 2017.
Bonus prizes are also available for technical and scientific achievements. These can include feats such as surviving the lunar night or visiting an Apollo landing site.
Israel Joins An Elite Club On Space Travel
“Only three countries have ‘soft-landed’ a rover on the surface of the moon: the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China,” said Eran Privman, SpaceIL CEO. He noted that SpaceIL last year made significant progress toward landing on the moon, in both project financing and engineering design. He said the company is thrilled to finally secure a launch agreement.
SpaceIL has secured launch services from Spaceflight Industries; a U.S.-based company that recently purchased a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher and will manifest SpaceIL’s spacecraft as a co-lead spot. It will sit in a capsule inside the launcher among a cluster of secondary payloads. Once the capsule separates from the launcher, it will release the spacecraft. The spacecraft will use advanced navigation sensors to guide it to the lunar surface. Engineers in a mission control room will send commands and corrections remotely as needed.
Falcon 9 Launcher Designed For Safe Transport
SpaceX designed Falcon 9 for reliable and safe transport of satellites and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit, according to the company website. It designed Falcon 9 with a two-stage configuration that minimizes the number of events. With first stage engines, the rocket completes the mission, even if an engine shutdown should occur.
In 2012, Falcon delivered Dragon into the correct orbit to rendezvous with the International Space Station, according to SpaceX. This made SpaceX the first commercial company to visit the Space Station. SpaceX has made three flights to the space station, delivering and returning cargo for NASA.
SpaceX created Falcon 9 to deliver humans into space. It is working toward that goal under an agreement with NASA.
Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight’s launch business, said his company is excited to work with SpaceIL to realize its mission and to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
The remaining 15 XPRIZE teams have until the end of 2016 to produce their own launch contracts, according to the BBC.
The U.S. team, Moon Express, last week said it will go on a New Zealand rocket. The X Prize Foundation told the BBC it could not verify a launch contract.
Images from Shutterstock and SpaceIL.