WASHINGTON — The X Prize Foundation announced Dec. 8 that it has verified a launch contract announced in October by Moon Express, making the company the second with an approved deal to participate in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition to land spacecraft on the moon.

The foundation said it had reviewed and confirmed as valid a launch contract between Moon Express and Rocket Lab that those companies announced Oct. 1. The contract covers three launches of Rocket Lab’s still-in-development Electron small launch vehicle, with two of the launches scheduled for 2017.

“We are extremely proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of Moon Express’s launch contract,” said Bob Weiss, vice chairman and president of the X Prize Foundation, in a statement.

Moon Express will use the launches to send a “micro-lander” called the MX-1E to the lunar surface. “We are thrilled to have our contract in place with Rocket Lab allowing us to provide low-cost missions to the moon for science and commerce,” Bob Richards, chief executive of Moon Express, said in the statement.

Moon Express is now the second company to have a launch contract for their lunar lander spacecraft verified by the X Prize Foundation. An Israeli team, SpaceIL, had its contract to launch a lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 verified by the foundation in October. SpaceIL will be one of the primary payloads on a launch purchased in September by Spaceflight Industries that will carry about 20 other spacecraft.

That initial launch contract verification allowed the foundation to formally extend the competition’s deadline to the end of 2017. Teams have until the end of 2016 to submit their own launch contracts in order to continue in the competition.

Sixteen teams remain in the competition, announced in September 2007, to land a privately-developed spacecraft on the moon, travel at least 500 meters across its surface, and return high-resolution videos and other data. Some teams are cooperating with others for launch arrangements.

Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh-based company competing for the prize, has announced separate agreements with a Japanese team, Hakuto, and a Chilean one, AngelicvM, to fly their spacecraft to the moon along with Astrobotic’s own lander. Astrobotic officials said in October that they plan to sign a launch contract for a late 2017 mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9, but are waiting to finish signing up customers for their lander before finalizing the launch contract.

Chanda Gonzales, senior director of the Google Lunar X Prize, declined in an October interview to estimate how many of the 16 Google Lunar X Prize teams would submit launch contracts by the deadline next year, but suggested many teams would either cooperate with others or fail to submit a contract.

“I am hopeful that we’ll have two, three or four teams” make the deadline, she said then.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...