To the moon and beyond! This stirring if slightly derivative catchphrase is not the motto of Israeli nonprofit spaceflight organization SpaceIL, but it should’ve been.
SpaceIL is planning to take home Google’s Lunar XPRIZE of $30 million, but being the first private firm to have an unmanned craft safely land on the moon will take some doing.
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That said, SpaceIL has become the first of the nearly a dozen firms trying for the Lunar XPRIZE to actually book a launch for its space craft designed for a soft landing on the Moon.
In a presser in Jerusalem earlier this week, the non-profit announced it had reserved a launch slot with Spaceflight Industries, which purchased a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to enable “ride sharing” launches of small private satellites or other spacecraft a few months ago.
Statement from President of XPRIZE
“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,” Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE, commented in a statement.
He continued to note: “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 fifteen teams now have until the end of 2016 to produce their own verified launch contracts.”
Details on Google’s Lunar XPRIZE
Keep in mind that you have to do more than just land on the moon to win Google’s Lunar XPRIZE. The terms of the $30 million contest require that the lunar landing craft explores the moon’s surface for at least 500 meters and sends high-res images and video back to Earth. The deadline for the Lunar XPRIZE is a little more than two years away, on December 31, 2017.
SpaceIL is not building a moon rover, The Israeli firm decided to design a craft that could perform a “hop” maneuver to move the lander the required 500 yards on the moon’s surface. After the SpaceIL craft lands on the moon and takes some pics, it will then use its remaining fuel to take off again and hop another 500 meters away. This means that SpaceIL, that was started by three young engineers, has been able to build a lunar lander that is small and relatively inexpensive.
“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,” SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman noted, continuing to say, “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 (STEM).”
SpaceIL has lined up more than $50 million in private financing, including an additional round led by major contributors the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Family Foundation and the Kahn Foundation, which made available the funds for the launch contract.
The lunar space-hopper will be launched into space on Spaceflight Industries’ new Falcon 9 rocket, together with several small satellites. Spaceflight’s “2017 Sun Synch Express” is due for launch in the second half of 2017, and will enter a sun-synchronous low-Earth orbit.
After the payload capsule with SpaceIL’s lunar lander and the other satellites is separated from the launch rocket, it will automatically release the moon-bound craft, which will then “use advanced navigation sensors to guide it to the lunar surface, with engineers in a mission control room standing by to remotely send commands and corrections as needed”, according to the company.