(JNS.org) An Israeli team competing in a Google-sponsored rocket launch race to the Moon has signed a deal with the Elon Musk-owned SpaceX with a plan to launch a rocket in 2017, officials said.
Sixteen teams are competing in the rocket launch race for a $20 million first-place prize. To win the race, a privately funded team must have an unmanned spacecraft reach the surface of the Moon, explore 500 meters (1,640 feet), and transmit high-definition video and photos back to earth.
Israel's SpaceIL is the first team to have its launch agreement approved by XPRIZE, the organization overseeing the race.
"The magnitude of this achievement cannot be overstated," said XPRIZE President Bob Weiss, Israel Hayom reported. "This is the official milestone that the race is on....They've lit the fuse, as it were, for their competitive effort."
According to the CEO of SpaceIL, Eran Privman, the agreement with SpaceX comes on the heels of a long search for an affordable way to launch a rocket without government financing, especially because his team's spacecraft is smaller than the majority of those being used by SpaceIL's competitors. The SpaceIL rocket is about 1.5 meters (4 feet, 11 inches) tall and wide, and the SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher is equipped to carry 20 small satellites whose fares will offset the cost of the launch.
"Other teams are trying to find such solutions," Privman said.