First Lunar XPrize launch contract signed

An artist's impression of the SpaceIL lander. Image courtesy of SpaceIL.
An artist's impression of the SpaceIL lander. Image courtesy of SpaceIL.

An Israeli spaceflight start-up has booked a 2017 launch for its pioneering moon lander, as part of Google’s Lunar XPrize.

SpaceIL has booked a ride aboard a SpaceX Dragon 9 craft, due to launch in mid 2017, according to the company’s current launch schedule.

The Lunar X-Prize is designed to stimulate interest in private spaceflight and lunar exploration. It awards prospective teams up to $20m in prizes if a series of criteria are achieved.

While the prize has been on offer now since 2007, it was due to expire if no team had managed to secure a launch contract by the end of this year.

“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 Bob Weiss vice chairman and president of XPrize.

SpaceIL’s craft will be launched as a ‘co-lead payload’ on a Dragon 9 purchased by Spaceflight Industries in a capsule alongside several other craft.

Once this capsule separates from the launcher, it will automatically release the spacecraft, which will then use automatic sensors to guide it to the lunar surface.

Should the craft be successful, it would make Israel only the fourth country to perform a soft landing on the Moon, after the US, Soviet Union, and China.

“The notion of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list look more promising than ever,” said SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman.

“Last year we made significant strides toward landing on the Moon […] we are thrilled to finally secure our launch agreement.”

According to the rules of the XPrize, teams will have to not only perform a soft landing on the Moon, but also send back HD footage, and travel 500m across its surface. SpaceIL plans to achieve this through a rocket powered ‘hop’.

Moon race heats up

While SpaceIL is the first to secure a launch contract, several other teams are hot on their heels.

Among these are Astrobiotic and Hakuto, American and Japanese groups who have teamed up to land not one, but three rovers. Similar to SpaceIL, they plan to use a Falcon 9 rocket for launch – something they predict is possible in 2016.

Additionally, in India, another start-up called Team Indus, is also developing technology to land on the moon after having won $1m in ‘Terrestrial Milestone’ prizes following demonstrations of their technology.