An artist's illustration of the Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander on the surface of the moon. (credit: Moon Express)

Time is running out for the 16 teams entered into the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which requires entrants to land a small spacecraft on the surface of The Moon by the end of 2017. But now, eight years after the prize was announced, the competitors are beginning to show tangible signs of progress.

In October an Israeli team, SpaceIL, became the first of the 16 competitors to announce a launch contract to carry its lander to the Moon. The team signed up for a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch in the second half of 2017. On Tuesday a second team attained that goal, as the US-based Moon Express, led by Bob Richards, announced a deal for a Rocket Lab Electron rocket in 2017.

"We believe that the spirit of competition brings about breakthroughs that once seemed unimaginable or impossible, and so it thrills us to now have two Google Lunar XPRIZE teams with verified launch contracts attempting missions to the moon in 2017," said Chanda Gonzales, senior director of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, in a statement. "The new space race is truly on!"

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