Second Google Lunar Xprize competitor has announced securing a launch contract to deliver its spacecraft to the Moon as part of a challenge to take a privately developed rover to the lunar surface.
Moon Express, which is headquartered at the NASA Ames Research Park in California, will use a Rocket Lab Electron rocket combined with the company’s ‘MX-1E’ micro-lander as part of a 2017 mission to the Moon.
The $30m (£20m) Xprize is funded by Google and will award prizes to teams that can design and produce a lander 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 that goal will receive a $20m (£13m) prize, with the runner-up receiving $5m.
Projects that meet the criteria by 31 December 2016 will be included in the launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket destined for the Moon.
“We are extremely proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of Moon Express’ launch contract,” said Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE.
"Having multiple teams attempting actual missions to the Moon is a hallmark of a genuine competition.
“Verified launch contracts are the 'bona fides' that teams need to demonstrate that they are in it to win it. Moon Express' accomplishment has brought XPRIZE closer to the Moon."
Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards said: "We applaud Google and XPRIZE for setting up such a visionary competition, and we’ve got our eyes on the prize.”
"Our long-term goal is to unlock lunar resources for the benefit of humanity, and we are thrilled to have our contract in place with Rocket Lab allowing us to provide low-cost missions to the moon for science and commerce."
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.
There are 14 other teams that are preparing their vehicles for the launch but have not been verified by XPRIZE to proceed in the competition so far.
An Israeli team that has designed a moon buggy became the first to sign a launch agreement with the Xprize fund in October.