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Google Lunar XPrize teams partner for a 2016 SpaceX moonshot

Teams Hakuto and Astrobotic have agreed to a partnership that will see them hitching a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. If all goes well, they could be on the moon before the end of 2016.

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off. SpaceX

The Google Lunar XPrize, a $30 million purse of prizes encouraging private teams to put lunar rovers on the moon, this morning took if not quite a giant leap, then at least a big step. Two of those teams, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic and Japan-based Hakuto, signed on to share a rocket ride to the moon in late 2016.

Hakuto, which developed a pair of rovers to explore the lunar surface, will hitch a ride on Astrobotic's lander, which plans to set down in Lacus Mortis, located in the northeastern portion of the moon. Once on the surface, both teams will deploy their rovers and go exploring. The first to cover 500 meters (around 550 yards) while broadcasting high-definition footage will take home the $20 million grand prize.

To leave the surface of Earth, the teams will be riding on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The formal launch date hasn't been set, but the plan is for a late-2016 lift-off.

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Both Hakuto and Astrobotic participated in the Google Lunar XPrize Milestone Tests. Hakuto took home $500,000 for a successful rover demonstration, while Astrobotic netted $1.75 million for testing its rover, imaging and landing systems.

If successful, these could be the first commercial teams to touch down on the lunar surface, opening the door to a new era of commercial space exploration.

Click here for more of CNET's coverage of the Google Lunar XPrize.