The organizers of an international competition sponsored by Google to send a privately funded spacecraft to the moon say a team of Israeli engineers is the first to advance.

The Israeli nonprofit group SpaceIL has signed a contract with American aerospace manufacturer SpaceX to launch an unmanned spacecraft into lunar orbit — the first step a team must take toward landing on the moon and winning the $20 million grand prize.

Google's contest is meant to encourage private industry to create new technologies to reach the moon at lower costs than what governments have spent in the past.

Chanda Gonzales, senior director of the Google Lunar XPRIZE contest, says the Israeli group is the first of 16 teams to finalize a contract with a launch provider.