Seattle-based Spaceflight says an Israeli team aiming to be the first to land a privately funded robot on the surface of the moon is a primary customer for its 2017 Falcon 9 rocket launch.
An Israeli team aiming to be the first to land a privately funded robot on the surface of the moon has booked a ticket with Seattle-based Spaceflight to launch its unmanned vehicle in 2017.
SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit set up to compete in Google’s $30 million Lunar XPRIZE competition, will be the co-lead customer on a Spaceflight mission that will ride a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket into orbit.
The SpaceIL robotic spacecraft, about the size of a dishwasher, will sit in a designated capsule atop the launch rocket.
Spaceflight has bought the entire launch from SpaceX and will fill the rocket with a cluster of more than 20 secondary payloads, mostly satellites.
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Once the capsule separates from the launch rocket and enters orbit, it will automatically release the SpaceIL robot, which will continue to the moon.
It will use navigation sensors to guide it to the lunar surface, with engineers in a mission control room sending commands and corrections as needed.
To win the Lunar XPRIZE, a competitor must place an unmanned spacecraft on the moon’s surface, explore at least 500 meters from the landing site, and transmit high-definition video back to Earth, before the mission deadline of Dec. 31, 2017.
So far 16 teams have said they will go for the $30 million prize.
While other teams are planning some kind of roving robot that trundles across the lunar surface, SpaceIL has designed a spacecraft that will hop. The idea is that sometime after the initial landing it will take off again with the fuel left in its propulsion system, then land again 500 meters away.
Earlier this month, a rival team, San Francisco-based Moon Express, announced a contract with startup space company Rocket Lab to launch three robotic spacecraft to the moon in 2017.
One of the co-founders of Moon Express is Naveen Jain, who founded Bellevue-based Internet companies InfoSpace and Intelius. InfoSpace crashed when the dot-com bubble burst, spurring allegations of deception and multiple lawsuits, which Jain eventually settled.