Well, it’s finally happened. A private company has committed to landing its own craft on the moon. An Israeli team called SpaceIL is the current leader in the competition to win the $20 million Google Lunar X prize, a race for a private company to be the first to land a craft on the Moon. SpaceIL has signed a contract with SpaceX to have a Falcon 9 rocket launch SpaceIL’s robotic lunar lander into space, on a trajectory toward the moon, in the second half of 2017. SpaceIL is the first team in Google’s competition to actually sign a contract that commits them to a moon landing.
"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,” says Bob Weiss, the X Prize’s Vice Chairman and President.
"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," Weiss goes on to explain. "It gives all of us at X Prize and Google the great pride to say, 'The new space race is on!”
Though Weiss may sound … very excited, this is actually a historic moment, perhaps not as historic as the moment that that first privately funded craft touches down on the moon, but this is
a major concrete step toward that outcome.
Other teams in the competition have certainly indicated that they are still very much in the competition. Moon Express, another of the teams, for example, has stated that it is aiming to launch its robotic MX-1 lander to the moon in 2017. Astrobotic, another contender says that, like SpaceIL, they also plan to launch their Griffin lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 sometime next year. But, so far, only SpaceIL has submitted a launch contract and supporting documents to the LunarX contest organizers for review, assessment, and verification.
This is certainly a significant event for SpaceIL, but it is also highly significant for X Prize competition itself. Since none of the teams in the competition had made significant progress toward the end goal of landing a craft on the moon, the Google LunarX Prize (or the GLXP) team announced that they wanted to extend the deadline for a team to launch to Dec. 31, 2017, but that to do that, at least one team had to announce a verified launch contract by the end of this year. That has now happened, so the contest can continue.
Space IL’s lander, is about 5 feet high and 6.6 feet wide. It weighs about 1,100-lb, or 500 kilograms. If the craft successfully completes a soft landing on the surface of the moon, Space IL will be joining a very elite group. So far, the only other entities to successfully achieve this feat are the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China.