Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (2nd L), Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Ofir Akunis (5th L) and members of the Israeli team, SpaceIL, look at a model of an Israeli spacecraft, during a meeting in Jerusalem October 7, 2015. The Israeli team competing in a race to the moon sponsored by Google has signed a with California-based SpaceX for a rocket launch, putting it at the front of the pack and on target for blast-off in late 2017, officials said on Wednesday.

The Google Lunar XPrize, a contest offering $20 million to the first private team to send a robot to the moon—and explore the lunar surface for the first time since China’s space agency landed a rover in 2014—is now down to four competitors with just over eight months until the race comes to an end.

SpaceIL, formed by veterans of the Israeli tech sector, will not be able to launch by the year-end deadline set by the race’s organizers, according to Spaceflight Industries, the space transport company hired to carry the team’s spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket launch it purchased from SpaceX.

A Spaceflight executive tells Quartz that SpaceIL’s rocket is still in the launch queue but will be unable to launch before 2018, effectively scotching SpaceIL’s chance at the contest barring a last-minute extension to the deadline.

SpaceIL was one of the first teams to be certified as a finalist by signing a launch contract in 2015. Because it had a spot on a Falcon 9 for the flight, it was secure in the knowledge that it was flying on a proven vehicle—a luxury not all of its competitors have. But SpaceIL’s moon probe, which weighs only a few hundred kilograms and is the size of a dishwasher, would have been one of several payloads on Spaceflight’s rocket. According to SpaceIL spokesperson Revital Alcalay, technical challenges in fitting it into the rocket alongside other cargo, so that it is deployed at the right time during flight, have led to delays….


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