GLXP news: SpaceIL donation, Discovery Channel film

SpaceIL Sparrow

An illustration of SpaceIL’s Sparrow lander on the surface of the Moon. The team’s bid to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE gained traction this month with a $16-million donation. (credit: SpaceIL)

There’s now less than 21 months for teams competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE to win the competition’s $20-million grand prize for landing a spacecraft on the lunar surface, move at least 500 meters, and return HD video and images. Speculation has focused on two US companies, Astrobotic and Moon Express, as the likely front-runners for the competition among the 18 remaining active teams. However, another team made a major step this past week to move towards the front of the pack.

Israeli team SpaceIL announced Wednesday that it has received a $16.4-million donation from the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Family Foundation. That amount is nearly half of SpaceIL’s estimated budget of $36 million to build and launch their mission. The team’s website states that they have $20 million in “cash and in-kind support” already raised; it’s not clear if this includes the donation.

The Adelson Family Foundation is funded by Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire who made his money with casinos, but is best known today for funding conservative political causes and candidates in the US. “As an entrepreneur, nothing is as thrilling as supporting a group of people who have been told that their dreams cannot be realized,” he said in the announcement of the donation. “We are proud to support Israel and SpaceIL [as they] prove that dreams do come true and that hard work, vision, and dedication are rewarded.”

SpaceIL’s spacecraft, Sparrow, is a small lander based on smallsat technology developed in Israel. The spacecraft doesn’t include a rover but instead will “hop” from one site to another to meet the competition’s 500-meter travel requirement. The team hasn’t secured a launch yet, but the team’s website says that a launch deal “be finalized in the first part of 2014.”

As SpaceIL and other GLXP teams try to get their vehicles ready by the competition deadline, the X PRIZE Foundation itself has worked out a television deal to cover it. Discovery Channel and Science Channel will be the “television homes” for the competition, according to a deal announced April 2. The networks will air a “miniseries event” about the competition, as well as live coverage of winning landing—assuming, of course, a team is able to land on the Moon by the end-2015 deadline.

“When the winning craft touches down on the moon’s surface, it’s going to trigger buzz and inspiration all over the world,” said Discovery Channel group vice president Eileen O’Neill in a statement announcing the deal. “Our intention is to provide a live, front-row seat to history being made,” she added, likening it to other adventure reality programming by the network.

Terms of the deal, including the fee Discovery Channel paid for the rights, weren’t announced. Ownership of media rights for the competition had been a sticking point for some teams in earlier debates about the competition’s Master Team Agreement.

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