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