An Israeli engineering team has hitched a ride for a robotic probe on a SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket booked by a Seattle company.
The contract for Tel Aviv-based SpaceIL — announced at an Oct. 7 event in Jerusalem attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin — is the latest sign Google’s $30 million Lunar XPRIZE competition is garnering serious R&D attention worldwide.
On Oct. 1, Mountainview, Calif., startup Moon Express said it’s hired L.A.-based Rocket Lab to launch its lunar probe.
More than a dozen companies are competing for the XPRIZE. A $20 million grand prize will be awarded to the first privately funded spacecraft to land a probe on the moon and send back images. There’s also a $5 million prize for the second team to manage such a feat, and bonus awards for scientific and technical achievement.
At least one other participant also has tapped Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX for its moon launch — Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh.
SpaceIL has secured its Falcon 9 ride via Spaceflight Industries, which books space on other companies’ rockets for customers needing to launch satellites and other spacecraft.
XPRIZE president Bob Weiss said the SpaceIL-Spaceflight contract “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.”
SpaceIL — a 3-year-old nonprofit with backing from Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Family Foundation and Morris Kahn’s Kahn Foundation — also unveiled the latest version of its lunar spacecraft at the news conference.
“Only three countries have ‘soft-landed’ a rover on the surface of the moon — the United States, the former Soviet Union and China,” SpaceIL chief Eran Privman said. “Now, the notion of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list looks more promising than ever.”
Spaceflight said Sept. 30 that it has booked a SpaceX rocket’s entire cargo capacity for a 2017 launch.
“We’re excited to work closely with the SpaceIL team to help them realize their mission of getting to the moon,” said Curt Blake, president of Spaceflight’s launch business. “It’s very gratifying to play an integral part in SpaceIL’s quest to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE.”