Sixteen private space ventures entered into the Google Lunar X Prize competition to be the first to land a spacecraft onto the lunar surface, but Israeli non-profit company SpaceIL is the first to show the greatest ambition at landing a robot on the Moon – having already booked a flight on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for the endeavor.
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Following the launch, the Falcon 9 rocket will thrust SpaceIL’s unmanned spacecraft into lower Earth orbit in late 2017; and also push the lander a little farther into space, from where the spacecraft will propel itself the remaining lap and then gently land on the Moon.
SpaceIL paid about $10 million to book a space aboard the Falcon 9 rocket for the mission, because this is much lower compared to paying for a whole launch. This amount is about a tenth of the cost of a full rocket launch; and the company continues to look forward to private donors to be of help in its bid to be the first to land a probe on the lunar surface among the 16 other private contestants.
Winning the race will allow SpaceIL to win the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition. The first winner will win a prize of $20 million, and the second will win $5 million while the remaining amount is given to other contestants who manage to reach certain milestones in the fierce competition.
To win the first position, the team must gently land a soft-landing lunar robot on the surface of the moon; and the robot must move up and down about 500 meters the lunar surface to gather data and collect samples. The spacecraft must also transmit high-definition images and videos back to Earth to alert scientists to its progress. All contestants have until December 31st, 2017 to land their robots on the Moon.
"I promise you once we land on the Moon, we’ll look around and see we are the first," said Eran Privman, CEO of SpaceIL.
Apart from the United States, Russia, and China, no other nation has ever landed a spacecraft gently without damaging the robot on the Moon. Many other countries crash-land their spacecrafts into the Moon, and this is largely because of the gravitational pull of the Moon which makes slowing down an approaching spacecraft very tricky and difficult.
Sparrow is the name of SpaceIL’s spacecraft billed to land and explore the moon.