The stakes just got even higher for an Israeli moon lander's historic touchdown attempt next month.
If all goes according to plan on April 11, the robotic lander, known as Beresheet, will become the first privately funded craft ever to pull off a soft lunar touchdown. To date, only the governments of the Soviet Union, the United States and China have landed missions on the moon.
Success will also net Beresheet's builders — the nonprofit group SpaceIL and the company Israel Aerospace Industries — a cool $1 million, courtesy of the X Prize Foundation.
"SpaceIL's mission represents the democratization of space exploration," X Prize founder and Executive Chairman Peter Diamandis said in a statement today (March 28) announcing this "Moonshot Award."
"We are optimistic about seeing this first domino fall, setting off a chain reaction of increasingly affordable and repeatable commercial missions to the moon and beyond," Diamandis added. (Beresheet's total mission cost, including launch, is about $100 million, team members have said.)
The nonprofit X Prize Foundation operates big-purse competitions designed to spur technological breakthroughs in a variety of fields. One such event was the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP), a $30 million contest that challenged privately funded teams to land a robot on the moon, move the craft at least 1,650 feet (500 meters) on the lunar surface and have it beam high-resolution imagery home to Earth.
The GLXP ended last year without a winner, but several former entrants have continued to develop their robotic moon missions. One of them is SpaceIL, which was founded in 2011 to compete for the prize.