Israelis leading in Google space competition


(JTA) — A team of Israeli engineers is leading in a Google-sponsored international contest to send a privately funded spacecraft to the moon.

SpaceIL, a nonprofit Israeli group working out of Tel Aviv University, is the first of 16 groups vying in the Lunar XPrize competition to finalize a contract with a launch provider and have technical and financial details approved by contest organizers, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The contest has a grand prize of $20 million. Other countries with groups in the competition include the United States, India, Japan and Germany.

SpaceIL’s contract is with the American aerospace manufacturer SpaceX to launch an unmanned craft to orbit the moon in the second half of 2017.

READ: With dishwasher-sized craft, Israeli Lunar X Prize team shoots for the moon

SpaceIL unveiled its spacecraft design at a conference Wednesday at the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. The craft weighs just 300 pounds, two-thirds of which is fuel.

The group expects to spend about $36 million on its mission.

Launched by Google in 2007, the Lunar XPrize has straightforward rules: The first team to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon, move it 500 meters — about the length of 5 1/2 football fields — across the moon’s surface and transmit high-definition photos and video back to Earth wins the $20 million.

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