A private team from Israel has become the first to secure a launch contract to loft a rover into space and, with any luck, on to the moon in the second half of 2017.
SpaceIL has signed a deal with California-based Spaceflight Industries which will see it launch its craft aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher. The deal is the first verified launch contract to be made by any of the teams competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, which promises $41.6 million to the first private organisation to land on the moon.
SpaceIL's craft won't be alone in the Falcon 9, though. It will sit in a capsule shared by a selection of satellites that aren't headed to the moon. When the containing capulse separates, SpaceIL's craft will be released and it will 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."
If SpaceIL achieves the feat, it won't be the only first it manages. Only three countries have ever landed a rover on the Moon: the United States, Russia, and China. If its attempt succeeds, you could add Israel to the list.
SpaceIL, a non-profit, is largely funded by private donors, who have so far contributed $69 million to its cause. Winning the XPRIZE may be somewhat of a help, then. To actually achieve that, the team -- or one of the other hopefuls -- must land their craft on the moon, explore at least 500 meters of its surface, and then transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. By December 31st 2017. It looks like they're cutting it fine.
Image by SpaceIL