XPRIZE to award $1 million to SpaceIL for orbiting moon

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The surface of the moon as captured by the Israeli spacecraft “Beresheet” with the Earth in the background. Credit: “Beresheet.”

“The legacy SpaceIL will have on the future of the space industry is significant. This team’s ability to build a lunar lander for $100 million and less than 50 engineers is remarkable, a leap forward towards affordable and accessible space exploration,” said XPRIZE executive chairman and founder Peter Diamandis.

(April 12, 2019 / JNS) The nonprofit organization XPRIZE announced on Friday that it will award SpaceIL with a $1 million award for being just the seventh nation to orbit the moon, despite not landing on the moon on Thursday after a failure in its main engine just before touchdown caused it to crash into the lunar surface.

“SpaceIL’s mission not only touched the moon, it touched the lives and hearts of an entire world that was watching,” said XPRIZE executive chairman and founder Peter Diamandis in a statement. “The legacy SpaceIL will have on the future of the space industry is significant. This team’s ability to build a lunar lander for $100 million and less than 50 engineers is remarkable, a leap forward towards affordable and accessible space exploration. Congratulations to Morris Kahn, their primary benefactor and the entire SpaceIL team for all their accomplishments—we are so proud.”

The spacecraft “Beresheet,” named after the first word and the first book in the Torah (meaning “in the beginning”), lifted off from Cape Canaveral on Feb. 21 and almost completed its 6.5-million-kilometer journey to the lunar surface.

Immediately after the result, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel will make another attempt, likely in the next two to three years.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” he said.

The project started eight years ago when its co-founders attempted to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE challenge by being the first private team to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit back to Earth high-definition video and images. The contest ended in March 2018 with no winner.

However, SpaceIL’s implementers Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yehonatan Weintraub pressed on, acquiring the backing of multiple donors, including Kahn.

SpaceIL’s effort was assisted by NASA. Only the United States, Russia and China have landed crafts on the moon, with India working on it.

The Moonshot Award will be given to SpaceIL at the nonprofit’s annual Visioneering Summit in October “with the hope that they will use these funds as seed money towards their education outreach or Beresheet 2.0, a second attempt to fulfill the mission,” said XPRIZE CEO Anousheh Ansari.

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