Barring a last minute extension of the December 31, 2017 deadline, the participants in the Google Lunar X Prize now number four. The Israeli team, SpaceIl has discovered, according to Quartz, that its ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 will not happen until 2018. Difficulties packing in the SpaceIl lunar lander were cited, but one suspects that the recent launch Falcon 9 launch disasters and the subsequent backlog of customers waiting for a ride into space did not help.

SpaceIl will continue its efforts to land the first Israeli probe on the surface of the moon.

They have some hopes of an extension past 2017, if no one else is close to winning the prize by the end of the years. Besides, its purpose is to provide an “Apollo moment” for Israel, inspiring young people to engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education and to enhance the Jewish’s state’s prestige in the Middle East and the world beyond. Those goals will be accomplished whether the team wins the Google Lunar Xprize or not.

The four remaining contestants are Moon Express, Team Indus, Team Hakuto, and Synergy Moon. Moon Express has done the United States government paperwork that is required for an American company to land on the moon, the first time that has ever happened.

The company, which aspires to be a lunar mining enterprise, has acquired a contract to launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket which has yet to fly in any capacity. Team Indus and Team Hakuto are sharing a flight on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Synergy Moon proposes to fly to the moon on an Interorbital Systems that also has not flown before.

The winner of the Google Lunar XPrize will not only land on the moon but return high definition video and images and move from the initial landing site for 500 meters. When the prize is won, the contest will prove that private groups can send robotic probes to the lunar surface, a feat hitherto only accomplished by the United States, the old Soviet Union, and China.

Commercial lunar exploration will take on an extra level of importance as space agencies such as NASA and the European Space Agency turn their attention to the moon. Public-private partnerships will decrease the cost of such ventures and increase their scope. Landing craft that will take small probes to the moon may well be able to be scaled up to take people. The next lunar landing, the first since 1972’s Apollo 17 mission, will very likely be a joint venture between governments and the private sector.