Moon race on even with­out Google’s $20mn prize

DNA (Delhi) - - Scitech -

Google called off its race to the moon weeks ago, when it be­came clear no pri­vate ex­plorer would com­plete the trip by the March 31 dead­line.

But, that won’t stop at least three teams from Is­rael, Japan and the US, who say their mis­sions are still a go, with or with­out the con­test’s $20 mil­lion prize. “We are full steam ahead,” said Yi­gal Harel, pro­gramme di­rec­tor at SpaceIL, the Is­raeli team that plans a soft-land­ing on the moon later this year.

When the Lu­nar XPrize was in­tro­duced in 2007, in­ter­est in moon ex­plo­ration was at a low. No gov­ern­ment had landed there since the 1970s and no busi­nesses had se­ri­ously con­tem­plated it. But the con­test has had its in­tended ef­fect, jump-start­ing a cot­tage in­dus­try of would-be space ex­plor­ers, even if no one emerged to take Google’s money.

Last year, over­all in­vest­ment in space star­tups by ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists climbed to a record $2.8 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing re­search firm CB In­sights. One rea­son the moon is within eas­ier reach is that es­cap­ing Earth’s grav­ity is now so much cheaper. Pri­vate launch ser­vices like Elon Musk’s Space Ex­plo­ration Tech­nolo­gies Corp can put a satel­lite into or­bit for about one-tenth what it would have cost a decade ago.

SpaceX last month sent up a rocket pow­er­ful enough to lift the weight of a fully-loaded jumbo-jet. The team most likely to get to the moon first, the non-profit SpaceIL, is at­tempt­ing the feat mostly to prove it can be done. With some fund­ing from the Is­rael Space Agency and bil­lion­aire casino mag­nate Shel­don Adel­son, they plan to hitch a ride on one of Musk’s Fal­con 9 rock­ets be­fore the end of 2018.

—Thinkstock

Im­age for rep­re­sen­ta­tion

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