In a milestone moment for private space ventures, SpaceIL, the Israeli entry into Google’s Lunar XPRIZE challenge, has announced it has reserved space on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to launch its moon rover in the latter half of 2017. If the probe can crawl 500 meters across the lunar service, the team will capture a $30 million prize from Google.
The team also announced a new and improved design for its lander. “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,” said SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman at a press conference in Jerusalem. “This takes us one huge step closer to realize our vision of recreating an ‘Apollo effect’ in Israel: to inspire a new generation to pursue science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM).”
The team made the announcement at a press conference at the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and also featured words from Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE, who said “It gives all of us at XPRIZE and Google the great pride to say, ‘the new space race is on!’”
The new space race
If Privman’s squad pulls it off, that would make Israel only the fourth country to plant a rover on the moon: The only others that have done so are the United States, China, and the Russia. Israel is already among world leaders in launching satellites and telecommunications, and has been the site of software developed for other space probes.
Google launched its contest in 2008, hoping to promote private space ventures absent serious investment for exploration by governments. A number of other companies not in the competition have also been founded to exploit the moon for natural resources, including the Shackleton Energy Company and Bigelow Aerospace. Among the 16 other Google entrants include projects from Malaysia, Italy, Germany, India, Brazil, and others.
The scheduling was made possible by a recent investment from the family foundation of conservative casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and Morris Kahn’s Kahn Foundation, and the rocket will launch with the help of Spaceflight Industries.
Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Weintroub launched SpaceIL in 2010 as a nonprofit organization. The nonprofit names nine people as part of its main management and claims to have more than 250 volunteers.