GLXP Launch Contracts: Follow the Money

Naveen Jain
Naveen Jain

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Over the past week, a pair of Google Lunar X Prize teams backed by billionaires — SpaceIL and Moon Express — have become the first two competitors to announce launch contracts to land rovers on the moon.

SpaceIL of Israel has received the backing of billionaires Sheldon Adelson (net worth, $27.4 billion — 2015), Morris Kahn (net worth, $1 billion — 2015), and Lynn Schusterman (net worth, $4.5 billion — 2014).

According to CrunchBase, the three billionaires made a $22.4 million investment in SpaceIL through their family foundations in April 2014. The Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Family Foundation contributed $16.4 million, with the Kahn Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation providing an additional $6 million.

The launch contract for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 booster, purchased through Spaceflight Industries, was made possible by an additional fund-raising round led by the Adelson and Kahn foundations, according to a SpaceIL press release. The total for the second round was not disclosed.

One of Moon Express’s three co-founders is Naveen Jain, whose net worth is $2.2 billion. Jain has put in undisclosed amounts of money in each of three funding rounds raised by the California-based team that he co-founded with Barney Pell and Bob Richards.

CrunchBase reports that Moon Express has raised $31.5 million from 27 investors in three funding rounds over the past five years. The most recent was a Series C round worth $16.5 million from four investors. The team earlier raised $2.5 million in an undisclosed round in September 2010 and an additional $12.5 million in a second undisclosed round in December 2013.

Moon Express has signed a contract for three launches with Rocket Lab. The Google Lunar X Prize is reviewing the contract to certify it is in compliance with the competition’s rules.

The table below via CrunchBase shows Moon Express’s 20 investors, who have made 27 contributions to the three funding rounds. The first two rounds were undisclosed; the third was Series C.

Autodesk1 Undisclosed
Barney Pell2 UndisclosedMoon Express co-founder
David J. La Placa1 Undisclosed
Firoz H. LaljiSeries C
Founders Fund1 Undisclosed
Jay Sethuram1 Undisclosed
Joe Gatto1 Undisclosed
Klee Irwin1 Undisclosed
Naveen Jain 3 Undisclosed, 1 Series CMoon Express co-founder
Other Investors2 Undisclosed
Paul Gauthier1 Undisclosed
Peter Farrell1 Undisclosed
Raymonds Capital, LLC1 Undisclosed
Richard Merkin1 Undisclosed
Richmond Global1 Undisclosed
Rizwan Virk1 Undisclosed
Rob Nail1 Undisclosed
 Robert Hariri1 Undisclosed
Scott Bannister1 Undisclosed
Tencent Holdings1 Undisclosed, 2 Series C
Source: CrunchBase

  • savuporo

    The old story. The way to make a small fortune in space business is to start with a big one.

  • Douglas Messier

    I dunno. Getting a billionaire backer seems essential to winning a space X Prize. Scaled, Moon Express, SpaceIL….

    You need a competent organization obviously, not just money. Astrobotic has a great team and technology, but I’m thinking they could end up left behind due to launch costs.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, it really limits the field, and the solutions offered, undermining the real advantages of the prize model.

  • One point of clarification to Doug’s post: It’s true that Moon Express has signed a contract for three launches with Rocket Lab (actually 5, two of which are options.. of the 3 primary launches, 2 are manifested for 2017). These launches of course go beyond the GLXP and evidence our commitment to build an ongoing commercial lunar business.

    But we have NOT (yet) submitted our Notification of Launch Contract to the XPRIZE Foundation for verification under the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

    Given the news that emerged this week that another GLXP team (SpaceIL) has already gone through this verification process to trigger the extension of the competition to 2017, all other teams have until the end of 2016 to submit a Notification of Launch Contract. So the pressure is off for us to do so in support of the competition, and given many competitive and proprietary disclosures that are requested under the Notice & verification process that impact not just Moon Express but our customers outside the GLXP, it’s not clear that it’s in our interest at this time to submit an official Notice of Launch Contract. We of course intend to do so before the end of 2016 as our agreement with our XPF/Google customer requires.