Israel is the latest entry in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) contest, bringing the number of teams to 16. Each team is vying to be the first privately funded team to successfully land a robotic craft on the moon by December 31, 2017. The Israeli team calling itself SpaceIL announced it has signed a contract to launch its craft towards the moon in the second half of 2017, making it the first team to name even a rough time frame for a lunar landing.
GLXP was developed in 2007 to encourage development of the private spaceflight industry as well as affordable access to the moon and other space destinations.
X Prize Vice Chairman and President Bob Weiss says, "We are proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of SpaceIL's launch contract, positioning them as the first and only Google Lunar X Prize team to demonstrate this important achievement thus far."
SpaceIL's announcement marks them as the only team to complete the verification process so far, which involves contest organizers reviewing and assessing the launch contract and supporting documents. Under contest rules, at least one GLXP team had to have a verified launch contract by the end of this year for the competition to be extended through to the end of 2017.
Weiss says, "The magnitude of this achievement cannot be overstated, representing an unprecedented and monumental commitment for a privately funded organization, and 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." He added, "It gives all of us at X Prize and Google the great pride to say, 'The new space race is on!'
The contest is not over once one of the entries lands a robotic craft on the moon. Once there, the craft has to move at least 1,650 feet and beam high-definition video and photos back to Earth. The first team to do so wins $20 million, the second $5 million and a further $5 million is set aside for other milestones.