Sixteen private space ventures entered into the Google Lunar X Prize competition to be the first to land a spacecraft onto the lunar surface, but Israeli non-profit company SpaceIL is the first to show the greatest ambition at landing a robot on the Moon – having already booked a flight on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for the endeavor, the group announced this in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
SpaceIL paid about $10 million to book a space aboard the Falcon 9 rocket for the mission, because this is much lower compared to paying for a whole launch. This amount is about a tenth of the cost of a full rocket launch; and the company continues to look forward to private donors to be of help in its bid to be the first to land a probe on the lunar surface among the 16 other private contestants.
The rocket will launch the team’s vehicle into lower Earth orbit sometime in the second half of 2017. From there, the rocket will carry the lander farther into space, and then the spacecraft will propel itself the rest of the way to land gently on the Moon.
If the mission succeeds, it will be the first Israeli mission — as well as the first private spaceflight mission — to soft-land a vehicle on the lunar surface. Eran Privman, CEO of SpaceIL, claimed the group isn’t focused on the competition, but they are confident they can win. ” I promise you once we land on the Moon, we’ll look around and see we are the first,” he said.
Winning the race will allow SpaceIL to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition. The first winner will win a prize of $20 million, and the second will win $5 million while the remaining amount is given to other contestants who manage to reach certain milestones in the fierce competition.
To win the first position, the team must gently land a soft-landing lunar robot on the surface of the moon; and the robot must move up and down about 500 meters the lunar surface to gather data and collect samples. The spacecraft must also transmit high-definition images and videos back to Earth to alert scientists to its progress. All contestants have until December 31st, 2017 to land their robots on the Moon.
If successful, SpaceIL, which was created in 2010, would be the first company to land a craft on the surface of the moon after the U.S., Russian and Chinese governments. Many other countries crash-land their spacecrafts into the Moon, and this is largely because of the gravitational pull of the Moon which makes slowing down an approaching spacecraft very tricky and difficult.
“Now, the notion of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list look more promising than ever,” SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman said in a statement.
“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.
“This takes us one huge step closer to realise our vision of recreating an ‘Apollo effect’ in Israel: to inspire a new generation to pursue science, engineering, technology, and math(s).”
The remaining 15 teams in the competition now have until the end of 2016 to demonstrate their own launch contracts, to complete a mission and claim the prize by 31 December 2017.
Sparrow is the name of SpaceIL’s spacecraft billed to land and explore the moon.SpaceIL has released details of its latest design concept
The other competitors aren’t far behind, though. Moon Express — the team from Mountain View, California — recently bought three launches from New Zealand-based spaceflight company Rocket Lab. The group plans to use Rocket Lab’s experimental Electron rocket, which has never flown before, to get three versions of its MX-1 lunar lander into space. The launches still need to be approved by the X Prize Foundation before they can be considered part of the competition. That’s what puts SpaceIL in the lead — though it’s not clear how long it’ll stay there.