Mar 29, 2019

XPRIZE to Award $1 Million for Robotic Lunar Landing After Prize is Over

The XPRIZE Foundation has announced that it will offer a $1 million “Moonshot Award” to former Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) competitor SpaceIL if its Beresheet spacecraft is able to successfully land on the lunar surface next month. 

This news sort of explains something interesting that was visible in SpaceIL's Earth selfie photo below. Can you see what it is?

Photo by Beresheet Lander in Earth Obit showing Logo Cluster (credit SpaceIL)
Yes, there is a small GLXP logo on the SpaceIL Beresheet spacecraft in bottom right corner of the logo cluster. 

In the rules for the GLXP the competitors were required to display a substantially-sized GLXP logo on their lunar spacecraft and transmit images of the logo back to Earth. Given that the prize is no longer active, carrying a somewhat smaller logo is understandable since SpaceIL is no longer competing for the full $20 million Grand Prize. Nevertheless, any logo space and mindshare on such an expensive mission is of substantial value and an organisation in SpaceIL's position would have many interested parties willing to pay substantial sums for sharing some of the moonlight limelight.

Aside from being a nice round number of impressive size, the $1 million dollars figure that XPRIZE Foundation is offering for this achievement has some interesting historical significance that is worth exploring:
  • $1 million is a pretty typical price to pay for a major in-space advertising campaign, as can be seen from our Top Ten list of similar campaigns in the past
  • It is also equal the Lander System Milestone Prize that three of the other former GLXP teams were awarded during the prize itself. At the time, the judging panel appointed by XPRIZE Foundation determined that SpaceIL's mission preparations were insufficiently advanced. 
Considering that Google already spent over $25 million on the GLXP, including operations and milestone prizes, spending another $1 million to fly a logo on SpaceIL's historic mission is actually quite a good deal to cement the Google Lunar XPRIZE's important role in kickstarting the era of private lunar exploration.


Mar 25, 2019

SpaceIL Privately-Funded Lunar Lander On Way to Moon

Former Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) competitor, and Israeli nonprofit, SpaceIL has launched a (largely) privately funded spacecraft to land on the Moon. See article.

The total budget for the mission is estimated at US$95 million. 

Funding for the mission has predominantly been from private donations, most notably from Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn and American philanthropist Sheldon Adelson. The team has also attracted support from the Israeli Space Agency (ISA) and a number of aerospace companies and research institutions in Israel. The SpaceIL team was founded as a nonprofit organization wishing to promote scientific and technological education in Israel. 

The photo below shows their beautiful spacecraft named Beresheet.

The Beresheet Robotic Lunar Lander (credit SpaceIL)

After dozens of other fundraising approaches were attempted by the various GLXP competitors around the world, it is interesting and impressive to see SpaceIL succeed through their model which combines national prestige and an education-oriented nonprofit foundation.

The team's precise plans beyond this first mission are yet to be clearly articulated but the company that led the development and integration of their lander, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), has already announced a partnership with the German space company OHB System to offer the commercial delivery of payloads to the lunar surface for the European Space Agency (ESA). Under the agreement, IAI will handle integration of payloads onto the lander and be responsible for launch arrangements. OHB will be the prime contractor for those missions, managing work with ESA and payload developers.

Although the Beresheet mission comes too late to claim the Google Lunar XPRIZE prize money, it undoubtably represents a fantastic achievement of the prize's main goal, namely to stimulate new commercially-viable models for lunar exploration.

The Beresheet mission is sure to kick off a wave of similar small lunar surface missions with substantial commercial involvement in the coming years. We look forward to seeing other GLXP teams, and their spin-offs like our very own ispace, achieve lunar surface access in the not too distant future.