Three of SpaceIL's founders -- Yariv Bash, Yonatan Winetraub, and Kfir Damari -- with a model of the spacecraft they propose to send to the moon (photo credit: Alon Hadar)
Israel a step closer to the moon, with propulsion deal
The lightest and smallest craft to ever lift off and reach the moon could net Israel $30 million from Google, its sponsors say
Israel’s moonshot project is a lot closer to reality after the SpaceIL organization, which is developing the Israeli spacecraft that will journey to the moon in 2015, acquired this month the engine for the rocket that will blast Israel’s lunar lander into space. The Israel-developed propulsion system, produced by Israel Aircraft Industries, cost several million dollars, SpaceIL said, and is “among the most critical components of the project,” the organization added.
SpaceIL is the Israeli organization that is building a “blue and white” spacecraft to compete in Google’s big Lunar X contest, which promises to award $30 million to a team that can land an unmanned, robotic craft on the moon. Once there, the craft will need to carry out several missions, such as taking high-definition video and beaming it back to earth, and exploring the surface of the moon by moving, or sending out a vehicle, that will move 500 meters along the moon’s surface.
SpaceIL’s mission, as the organization describes it, is to successfully build, launch into space, and land on the moon a space capsule, making Israel the fourth country in the world to achieve this. Over 250 volunteers are working on SpaceIL, and the project has numerous corporate and academic sponsors – most notably Israeli telecom giant Bezeq, which, besides helping with the funding, is providing optical fiber technology that will transmit the entire drama back to earth. The money, said SpaceIL, will be used largely to help fund scientific education in Israel.
SpaceIL will be competing against teams from all over the world, seeking to take home not only the prize, but the national glory that will come with being one of the select few (among them the USA, Russia, China, and Japan) to have landed a probe on the moon.
Israel’s “secret sauce,” said SpaceIL, will be its probe’s lightness. The entire thing, including the propulsion system, will weigh less than 150 kilograms (330 pounds). The probe itself – the only part of the craft that will actually reach the moon – will weigh no more than 40 kilograms, with the rest taken up by the engines and fuel tanks (the fuel tanks and fuel weigh 90 kilograms). It’s a long way to the moon, though – 384,000 kilometers – so in order to save on fuel and weight, the SpaceIL craft will hitch a ride with a commercial satellite rocket that will take it beyond the atmosphere, ejecting it after passing the earth’s field of gravity. The organization is currently discussing several launch possibilities, it said.
The SpaceIL craft won’t just be very light; it will be very small, as well. The probe will measure less than a meter long, making it the smallest probe ever to hit the lunar surface. Though small in volume, the probe will be rich in technology, with advanced cameras, computers, and recording equipment installed to record the adventure and transmit data back to earth. Its small size, the SpaceIL team hopes, will give Team Israel’s probe a leg up on other competitors.
Commenting on the propulsion system deal, SpaceIL CEO Dr. Eran Privman said “the propulsion system, together with the computer system already acquired last June, has brought the reality of the SpaceIL probe closer than ever.”
Quelle: The Times of Israel
ISRAEL21c presents... SpaceIL, live from Israel !
Join us on Wednesday for a live-streamed Q&A with the three Israelis shooting for the moon – and a $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE.
The SpaceIL rocket.
SpaceIL is poised to make history by landing the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon, and could win a $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE if it’s the first team to accomplish the mission. You can be part of the excitement.
ISRAEL21c readers from any country are invited to a unique Google Hangout with SpaceIL’s Adam Green, Kfir Damari and Daniel Saat on Wednesday, April 9, at noon Eastern Daylight Time (9am Pacific time, 7pm Israel time) in cooperation with the iCenter, SpaceIL’s North American partner.
“Israel is the smallest country participating,” notes Amy Friedkin, president of ISRAEL21c. “It is very exciting to be sending the Israeli flag to the Moon, on a spacecraft that may be the smallest ever to land on the Moon.”
In the first half of the hangout, ISRAEL21c Associate Editor Viva Sarah Press will interview the SpaceIL visionaries. In the second half, they’ll answer questions submitted in advance through ISRAEL21c’s Facebook page, or posted in the livechat on YouTube.
Friedkin explains that ISRAEL21c received a grant to do a live-streamed project. “We chose SpaceIL because it seemed like a great topic for a live-stream, especially for the 10 participating schools because of Space IL’s educational mission.”
The team has said from the start that if it wins the prize, the money will be donated toward STEM education in Israel. “They are trying to create an ‘Apollo effect’ – a real interest in space among Israeli youth,” Friedkin says.
SpaceIL’s craft will look like this.
“Space exploration could be the next big area of Israeli dominance. For the student population and the public at large, our SpaceIL Google Hangout helps open up the lens on Israel so they can see it more as it really is.”
Nathan Miller, ISRAEL21c’s social media director, says the Hangout represents a new venue for reader interaction with the stories we report on.
“This is part of our visual engagement process to expand the ways in which ISRAEL21c hears readers and responds to them,” says Miller. “We’ve increased our activity on Facebook and launched a reader photo contest and a Digital Ambassadors project to that end, and this is another part of that process.”
In order to win the $30 million XPRIZE, a privately funded company must land its craft safely on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters above, below, or on the lunar surface, and send back two “Mooncasts” to Earth by December 31, 2015. Teams may also compete for bonus prizes for exploring lunar artifacts or surviving the lunar night. Some 33 teams are vying for the honors.
SpaceIL is applying Israel’s pioneering innovations in micro- and nano-satellite technology to build a singularly small, smart spacecraft.
“We have readers signed up for the Hangout from all over the world, and we are expecting more to watch it on YouTube afterward,” says Miller. “We’ve seen from the overall interest in this live-stream that SpaceIL’s leaders have a very compelling story to tell. People connect to their message of science and empowering people through the amazing thing they are doing, harnessing all the creativity of Israelis.”
He predicts that if this first live-stream goes well, ISRAEL21c will plan additional Google Hangouts “so we can let people have a conversation with the people behind our stories.”
Israeli Lunar XPrize team shoots for the moon
With a dishwasher-sized craft, 3 young men hope to make the Jewish state the fourth ever to land on the lunar surface
JTA — One small step by Israelis could become a giant leap for the State of Israel.
At a Tel Aviv University laboratory, a team of 20 Israelis is building a spacecraft they believe will make Israel only the fourth country — after the United States, Russia and China — to touch down on the moon.
The project, known as SpaceIL, looks like a long shot. The three-legged hexagonal craft appears too puny for space travel, measuring just 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Of the initiative’s three founders, only one holds an academic degree beyond a bachelor’s. And SpaceIL is competing against 17 other teams to win the $20 million Google Lunar XPrize by being the first private spacecraft to land on the moon. The team hopes to land its craft by the end of next year.
Despite the odds, however, the founders exude the confidence of Nobel Prize-winning scientists — and that’s not all that makes the project Israeli. From its origins to its endgame, SpaceIL is a quintessential story of Israel’s upstart high-tech sector.
Its founders came together with little preparation and no money. They overcame a maze of Israeli bureaucracy to qualify for the contest, attracting funding through personal connections to preeminent scientists. And they say they will win the competition not by being the biggest or richest team, but by redefining how to send a spacecraft to the moon.
“Only superpowers have managed to land on the moon,” co-founder Yariv Bash said. “What China did as a nation of 1.3 billion people, SpaceIL is doing as a nonprofit. It puts things in perspective.”
Launched by Google in 2007, the Lunar XPrize has straightforward rules: The first team to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon, move it 500 meters — about the length of 5 1/2 football fields — across the moon’s surface and transmit high-definition photos and video back to Earth wins $20 million. The mission must be complete by the end of 2015.
Thirty-three teams registered for the competition and nearly all of the remaining 18 contenders plan to launch tank-like rovers to roll across the moon’s surface, which Bash says is more expensive and will consume more fuel than the SpaceIL craft. SpaceIL expects to spend about $36 million on its mission.
SpaceIL’s craft is the size of a dishwasher and weighs just 300 pounds, two-thirds of which is fuel. Rather than drive across the moon, it will take off again after landing and jump 500 meters. Its navigation system will double as a camera and its steering thrusters will guide its landing.
“Instead of taking a bulky radar system, we’re taking cameras with us, so the best thing is to reuse those cameras,” Bash said. “If I can just write more code for my camera, code doesn’t weigh anything.”
Bash hadn’t even considered entering the competition until 2010. He pushed through government bureaucracy to register SpaceIL as a nonprofit and entered the race on Dec. 31, 2010 — the last day of registration. Yonatan Winetraub, another of the project’s co-founders, connected with Israel Space Agency head Isaac Ben Yisrael, who gave the group three minutes on stage at a space technology convention in Tel Aviv.
It was enough to convince philanthropists at the convention to give SpaceIL its seed money and lure Ben Yisrael to join the group’s board. SpaceIL has since received support from Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who gave $16.4 million.
“They’re young people with a lot of vision, with Israeli initiative,” Ben Yisrael said. “If the government sends a craft to space, that’s OK. But when there’s a group of young people that takes on a project that looks like science fiction, to land something on the moon, it’s different. It’s strong.”
SpaceIL has avoided the expensive and labor-intensive approach of some of the other teams, but it’s not the only one to go small. The Penn State Lunar Lion Team, an XPrize team housed at Pennsylvania State University, also is building a small craft that will jump the 500 meters. Team director Michael Paul said small projects like theirs could complement large government initiatives and broaden the reach of space exploration.
“We’ve created a new model that makes space exploration possible through philanthropy,” Paul said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be a dominant piece [of space exploration], but it will be an incredibly important piece in the decades to come. NASA isn’t going away.”
SpaceIL hopes to expand the appeal of space exploration by spreading its message through Israel’s classrooms. The team is investing in a large educational program, lecturing about the program in Israeli classrooms and working with Israel’s Education Ministry to devise a science curriculum based around space travel. Along with reaching the moon, the founders hope to imbue Israel’s next generation with excitement for science and technology.
“We let them know they’re capable of building their own spacecraft,” said the third co-founder, Kfir Damari. “We want to use the story to show that science and technology is exciting, that you can have a huge impact on the world if you’re a scientist and engineer.”
SpaceIL’s team believes it has a good chance of winning. But even if it doesn’t, Damari said landing an Israeli craft on the moon will be reward enough.
“It’s the story of three people who decided one day that they’re landing on the moon,” he said. “Today it’s an Israeli project, but it’s [also] three engineers who wanted to land a spacecraft there and it’s happening.”
Quelle: THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
Israelis sign contract to launch spacecraft to the moonSpaceIL unveiled its lunar spacecraft prototype with great fanfare; it is the first of 16 competitors in the Lunar XPrize to be set for launch
An artist's rendering of the SpaceIL lunar spacecraft. (Screen capture/Google Lunar XPRIZE)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Science and Technology minister Ofir Akunis and other business and political leaders gathered on Wednesday at the President’s Residence before approximately 50 invited guests to hail what they described an enormous Israeli achievement.
This achievement, Akunis told the crowd, “constitutes a step forward for humanity and a giant leap forward for the State of Israel.”
What is this achievement? Israel has come one step closer to possibly doing well or even winning the Google Lunar XPrize, a $20 million prize that will be awarded to the first non-governmental team that puts a robot on the moon and sends photos and videos back to earth.
What Israel’s SpaceIL organization did was sign a contract with a company that provides a launcher to propel its small unmanned spacecraft to the moon.
The prototype is unveiled at the President’s Residence (Courtesy)
The rules for the Lunar XPrize stipulate that teams entering the competition must put a rover on the moon, have it explore at least 500 meters and transmit a high-definition package of still images and video back to earth, all by the competition’s deadline of September 31, 2017.
Israel’s non-profit space organization SpaceIL has come closer to this goal than any of the other 15 teams in the competition. They signed a contract to use a launcher by 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.
“I am proud to officially confirm receipt and verification of SpaceIL’s launch contract, which positions them as first and only Google Lunar XPrize team to show this achievement so far,” said Bob Weiss, president of the XPrize Foundation, who came all the way from California to announce the milestone.
In his speech Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis described Israel as “a light unto the nation in morality, wisdom, humanity, science and innovation.” He mentioned Israel’s twelve Nobel laureates, saying “if we succeed this will be another success for Israeli entrepreneurship, Israeli science and the Israeli spirit.”
“With God’s help, we will win this contest.”
Eyes on the prize
The XPrize is a non-profit whose board of trustees includes Elon Musk, Ray Kurzweil, Larry Page and Arianna Huffington. Its stated mission is to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” by motivating people across the world to come up with technological solutions to problems that are not incentivized by the market.
The XPrize was inspired by the Orteig Prize, the 1919 offer of $25,000 by wealthy French hotelier to whoever could complete the first non-stop flight between New York City and Paris. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh won the prize with the Spirit of St. Louis. The original XPrize was offered in 1996 to a team that could build and fly a three‐passenger vehicle 100 kilometers into space twice within two weeks. So far, there have been eight such competitions.
Chanda Gonzales, who runs the Google Lunar XPrize was also in Jerusalem for the festivities.
She says the purpose of the technology is not just for one or two teams to win the monetary prizes, but because a lot of teams are competing “you build a whole new space economy.” At present there are 16 remaining teams in the race, from the United States, Israel, Japan, Germany and Canada, among other countries. Anyone could have signed up before 2010, the final registration deadline, as long as 90 percent of the cash came from private industry and the team had no more than 10 percent government support.
Why is Google paying for this?
“Google and the XPrize Foundation are backing this because we care about the future of the world. We want to see breakthroughs in technologies.”
Kfir Namari is one of three Israeli engineers who found each other through Facebook and decided to join the Lunar XPrize competition in 2010. Their efforts evolved into SpaceIL, a non-profit space organization with over 30 employees.
“Why doesn’t the market just take care of space exploration?” The Times of Israel asked him.
“There’s no commercial market to land on the moon. That’s why we decided to incorporate as a non-profit. The spacecraft we built is cheap and simple. In the future there could be commercial applications, like quarrying in outer space or launching more satellites for applications beyond GPS. And there are other things we’ll discover on the moon, but we don’t know what they are yet.”
What did Israel’s space program actually accomplish?
According to an Curt Blake, Presdient of SpaceFlight Inc. SpaceIL approached his company about obtaining a launch that would be affordable for them.
The launcher that will launch the spacecraft into lunar orbit is called the Falcon 9, which is manufactured by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. SpaceFlight acts as a kind of middleman, buying launchers from SpaceX and aggregating a bunch of smaller payloads together.
In the case of SpaceIL, their craft will be launched with a number of satellites headed for low earth orbit. The spacecraft itself will go into high elliptical orbit and from there to the moon.
“We buy the rocket and we do the integration work of a stack of payloads deployed in a certain order,” said Blake.
Do you take just anyone?
“They have to have the money. And you can’t send something dangerous into orbit. Also, small payloads have to be able to come back to earth so they don’t clutter lower earth orbit.”
How much does it cost to use your launcher?
“”About $20,000 dollars a kilo.”
Unveiling the spacecraft
The highlight of the event was the unveiling of a prototype of the SpaceIL craft that is about half the size of the actual vehicle.
Morris Kahn, one of the project’s major donors, together with Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, points out that the spacecraft says “Am Israel Chai” on the side, “the nation of Israel lives.” This gesture is reminiscent of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon taking Jewish artifacts into space with him, including a miniature Torah and drawing by a Holocaust survivor.
What got you interested in this project?
“I’m interested in science and space. I’m a member of the Sea Space symposium,” said Morris Kahn an Israeli billionaire who reportedly spends most of his time on a 100-foot yacht. I thought it was important to do something to put Israel on the map and to educate youth and encourage them.”
What interests you about space? What mystery would you like to learn the answer to?
“How all of this started.”
A little Israeli robot on the moon that could inspire others
The vision of SpaceIL is to use the contest to inspire more young Israelis to study science, technology, engineering and math.
IT’S 2010, three young entrepreneurs – Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub − meet at a bar in Holon and decide to enter a Google Prize competition to put a robot on the moon. It must be able to walk 500 meters and send back high-definition photos. They have just one month to raise the entry fee ‒ $50,000 ‒ and submit a set of complex drawings.
Don Quixote? An impossible dream? Today, SpaceIL, the not-for-profit organization they built, employs 40 workers and has 200 unpaid volunteers. It has a contract to launch its robot into space next year ‒ one of only two teams to have such a contract verified by XPrize so far.
The vision of SpaceIL is to use the contest to inspire more young Israelis to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the face of a worrisome steep decline in those interested in these subjects.
SpaceIL is well funded, having raised some $40 million, with sizable grants from the Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Foundation and from Morris Kahn, founder of the global giant Amdocs.
My Skype interview with Winetraub, who at the time was in Silicon Valley, evoked thoughts of the legendary “we choose to go to the moon” speech by US president John Kennedy on September 12, 1962. That speech, only 2,200 words, before 35,000 people in a Houston football stadium, changed the world and inspired a generation of young Americans to study science. Here are some parts of it: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one we are willing to accept…” SpaceIL co-founder Damari began programming his computer at age six. He served in the famed IDF Military Intelligence unit 8-200; earned two degrees in systems engineering from Ben-Gurion University and led several R&D teams. He told StartupCamel, a start-up website, that he, Bash and Winetraub approached experts at the Israel Space Agency, Israel Aerospace Industries and the Weizmann Institute of Science, and told them about wanting to build an Israeli robot the size of a Coke bottle to land on the moon.
He recalls to The Jerusalem Report, “They looked at us, smiled, and instead of saying, you’re crazy, they said, that’s amazing, how can we help?!” In 10 days, they raised the entry fee, and just before the deadline, assembled a “good enough” set of blueprints to qualify.
“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own.
Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man…” Kennedy told the Houston audience.
“The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home, as well as the school,” he continued.
“We want to promote STEM studies in Israeli schools,” Damari asserts. “We are building the first Israeli moon robot. The kids, they will build the next one.”
Former Intel Israel president Mooly Eden told Haaretz columnist Meirav Arlosoroff that the number of high school students taking five units of math has declined from 13,000 in 2007 to around 9,000 today, a 30 percent drop.
“There is already a shortage of thousands of workers in Israeli high-tech,” he said.
“What will happen when we come to recruit the next generation in which just 9,000 students study five units of math?” SpaceIL has several senior managers whose job is to encourage STEM studies, led by Dr. Ayelet Weizman, VP of Education.
I recalled how the US moon program got public attention with clever ideas, like astronaut Alan Shepard’s famous one-handed golf swing on the moon. (Try swinging a five-iron in a space suit!) Among the youth-oriented SpaceIL “marketing” ideas: A mock-up of the little robot inviting people at Ben-Gurion Airport to take a “selfie” in front of it and send it to SpaceIL, which will then upload it onto the robot and take it to the moon (digital images don’t weigh that much).
“To be sure, all this costs us a good deal of money. The budget now stands at $5.4 billion a year, a staggering sum, though less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. …I realize this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us. …I don’t think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job,” Kennedy concluded.
To this day, experts argue over whether the billions spent on the US moon shot were well spent. The budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) peaked in 1966 at $44b. (in 2015 dollars), or 4.4 percent of the federal budget.
Today, NASA’s budget is only $19b., or 0.5 percent of federal spending.
The US, a rich country, has convinced itself that it is, in fact, poor and that slashing budget deficits is more important than visionary projects that benefit humanity – another wrongheaded idea my fellow economists have sold the world. This has created a vacuum, filled in part by XPrize.
The XPrize Foundation, founded in 1995, has among its trustees Elon Musk (Tesla), Larry Page (Google), and filmmaker James Cameron. XPrize designs and manages public competitions “to encourage technological development that could benefit mankind.”
The inspiration originally came almost 90 years ago from the $25,000 prize offered by French tycoon Raymond Orteig for the first nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. In 1927, Charles Lindbergh, an underdog, won the prize in his Spirit of St.
Louis single-engined Ryan aircraft. Nine teams spent $400,000 on the contest.
The direct result was a 300 percent increase in US applications for pilot licenses and 35 times more airline passengers within three years. One American in four personally viewed the Spirit of St. Louis within a year of Lindbergh’s flight. America’s appetite for flight caught fire.
So far, there have been six XPrize competition awards, with seven active competitions in the areas of energy and environment, life sciences, exploration, learning, and global development. A key goal of XPrize competitions is leverage – the total amount invested in the contest exceeds by 10 times or more the prize money offered, and can yield “100 times follow-on investments and social benefits.”
On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. “That’s one small step for a man,” he said memorably, “one giant step for mankind.”
In 2017, a Falcon 9 rocket will carry SpaceIL’s robot into space and launch it to the moon. SpaceIL is one of only two competing teams out of 16 to have signed a launch contract. SpaceIL is competing with much bigger, better-funded teams from the US, UK, Germany and India.
Winetraub told me that choosing members of the team was crucial. “Basically, we did tryouts,” he explains to The Report. He gave one candidate a difficult design problem.
The individual worked through the night and came up with a solution. He got the job.
The task has proved very difficult. “If we knew in advance how hard it was,” Winetraub says, “we might not have done it.”
Recently, SpaceIL took delivery of the crucial camera, made of titanium and hard glass, which has to withstand the moon’s temperature variations. During 13½ days of daylight, the temperature can reach 253 degrees Fahrenheit (123 degrees Celsius), well above boiling point. During the 13½ days of darkness, the temperature can dip SpaceIL aims to inspire more young Israelis to study science, technology, engineering and mathto minus 243 degrees F (minus 153 degrees C). In space, radiation can scramble computer memories and ruin the whole mission.
“The great British explorer George Mallory was asked why did he want to climb [Mt. Everest]… He said, because it is there.
Space is there… and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.” Contrast Kennedy’s stirring words with the tweets of US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (“I don’t wear a ‘rug,’ it’s mine. And I promise not to talk about your massive plastic surgeries that didn’t work.”) According to the fact-checking website PolitiFact, Trump speaks falsehoods 88 percent of the time.
Compare Kennedy’s visionary words with what the late former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said, before his death, about Israel’s leaders, “Enemies do not scare me; I worry about our leadership… there is a lack of vision, a lack of direction.”
Precisely what is the vision that our political leaders, center, left and right, have for the people they lead and represent? I have no clue. Do you? Some readers may recall the stirring opening words of the TV series “Star Trek, Voyage of the Enterprise”: “Space – the final frontier… Its continuing mission…To boldly go where no one has gone before.”
To go where no one has gone before is the unspoken mantra of all entrepreneurs, including those who lead SpaceIL. When they succeed, they inspire others to follow them, and together they change the world.
What will SpaceIL do with the $20 million if they win? They plan to invest the money in new, exciting and visionary projects – perhaps a probe to Mars.
Next year, when the little Israeli robot scrambles along the bumpy surface of the moon and shows us what it sees, I hope more young Israelis will be inspired to study math and science, instead of law and business, their imaginations ignited by SpaceIL and, indirectly, by the words of a lamented dead president spoken two generations ago. ■