TEL AVIV SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon, said on Wednesday it has received a $16.4 million grant from the foundation of U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
With a budget estimated at $36 million, the Israeli scientists and engineers building the shuttle - temporarily named "Sparrow" - believe it will land on the moon by the end of 2015, a feat only the United States, Russia and China have managed so far.
SpaceIL, which is backed mainly by philanthropists, was founded to compete for Google's LunarX Prize, unveiled in 2007. The $20 million prize will go to the first team to land a spacecraft on the moon, make it jump 500 meters and transmit images and video back to earth.
Thirty-three teams started out in the running and they are now down to 18, including competitors from the United States, Italy, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Canada, India and Chile.
SpaceIL said it aims to show that space exploration is no longer limited to global superpowers with vast space programmes. It also hopes its technological breakthroughs spur a new wave of commercial space-related industries in Israel.
"As an entrepreneur, nothing is as thrilling as supporting a group of people who have been told that their dreams cannot be realized," Adelson said.
(Reporting by Tova Cohen)