An Israeli team that has designed a moon buggy has become the first to sign a launch agreement to send their vehicle to the Moon as part of Google’s Lunar Xprize.
SpaceIL’s buggy is the first from a number of competing teams that has met the criteria needed to be included in the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, for which the winners will receive a $20m (£13m) prize.
The competition is organized by the Xprize Foundation and sponsored by Google.
To win the award, the competitors are required to construct a vehicle that can reach the lunar surface and traverse a minimum of 500 metres while capturing HD video and sending it back to Earth.
The first team to achieve the feat will bag the main $20m award, with the runner-up receiving $5m.
The original deadline for the competition, announced in 2007, was set for the end of this year. However, with none of the teams able to secure a launch date by the end of 2014, the deadline was extended to December 31 2016.
“Only three countries have ‘soft-landed’ a rover on the surface of the moon: the United States, the former Soviet Union and China. Now the notion of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list looks more promising than ever,” said SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman.
“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 realize our vision of recreating an ‘Apollo effect’ in Israel: to inspire a new generation to pursue science, engineering, technology and math.”
SpaceIL purchased launch services from American space company Spaceflight Industries who bought a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher and will install the buggy inside a designated capsule inside the launcher, among a cluster of secondary payloads.
Once the capsule separates from the launcher, it will automatically release the spacecraft, which will use 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.
“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,” said Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of Xprize.
Earlier this year, $5m was awarded to the competing teams as part of the Milestone Prize which focused on the technical solutions proposed by individual teams.