Google Lunar XPrize is prepared to spend 30 million US$, so that an enterprise funded 90% with private money can bring a robot to land on the moon. 10% may be financed by public funds or government budgets.
16 teams were competing at the beginning of the tender: Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Hungary, Brasil, Canada, Chile – each with one team, the US with two teams, as well as two international groups.
The final participants have now been determined:
Team SpaceIL, Israel – Moon express, United States – Synergy Moon, International – TeamIndus, India – Hakuto, Japan
Google started the project Lunar XPrize in 2011. Why was it the moon among all destinations that became the goal of this ambitious challenge? One of the key sentences is the following:
„If we explore the moon, we shall discover the universe“
SpaceIL is a NPO founded in 2011 with a single objective: to conquer the moon. The organization which was originally founded by three young engineers in order to be able to participate in the competition, included at the time the founders Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub. Nowadays, the CEO Eran Privman is the head of the enterprise, with 30 full time employees and dozens of volunteers.
As is the case with most of the numerous Israeli NPOs and start-ups, it shows two characteristics. First, the mean age is very low and secondly, even in highly technical and specialized enterprises there is a very high percentage of women as compared to Europe.
And yes, another characteristic – the goal usually is not only the one in the foreground, but also, perhaps even mainly, what lies behind it. In the first grades of middle school, pupils are already introduced to the fields of technology, sciences, engineering, new technologies and applied mathematics. Those who develop particular talents in those fields are nurtured accordingly. This is why SpaceIL promised that any money they may earn in the course of the competition would be forwarded to relevant institutions.
This is where SpaceIL intends to take action, with the aim of triggering off the „Apollo Effect“ again in Israel. The first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who burned to death when returning to earth on February 1st, 2003 in the space shuttle Columbia, remains unforgotten. The space shuttle broke apart when reentering the earth atmosphere. His son Assaf, who wanted to follow in his father’s steps, died when his fighter aircraft crashed in 2009.
Israel needs more young people deciding to study science. Presently they are only 6%, whereas in the OECD they are 15 – 20%. The IDF urgently needs 12,000 new recruits a year in order to develop Israeli defense systems. Israel is the start-up country. But, as one tends to forget in all that euphoria, those start-ups deal mainly with the field of medicine, medical technology and IT. SpaceIL intends to champion the right curricula on all school levels, in order to motivate students before they decide on higher education, to go for the fields of science, technology and engineering. To this effect partnerships with US American Space Centers are meant to be of assistance. They are supposed to address Jewish highschool students and involve them in the program. In this manner beside the scientific relations the young peoples personal links to Israel are to be strengthened.
The planet closest to us, the moon, is the door to space for us. Children look up to the sky and believe they can see a face, the „man in the moon“, and they are certain that there is life on this cold and luminous planet. Sweet melancholic lullabies have been putting children to bed, both in German as in English speaking countries.
In Bereshit 1,14 – 1,18, the story of creation describes how God creates the heavenly bodies and assigns them tasks: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.
In the 1st century BCE Poseidonios already knew that the sun’s and the moon’s tidal forces are responsible for ebb and flow, the moon’s forces being about double that of the sun. For a long time it remained unclear why tides repeat themselves regularly in the course of a day. In the meantime it has become clear that the predictable regularity is due to the earth’s regular compression and expansion.
In numerous ancient cultures it was taken for granted that during menstruation women retired to the „red tent“. The fact that several women stayed there at the same time is due to the moon, which needs 29.5 days to complete its orbit, i.e. exactly the length of the female cycle. This withdrawal was not considered to be an isolation nor an exclusion, it was supposed to leave women time to concentrate on themselves and to be exempted from all tasks. If you would like to read more on the subject, I warmly recommend Anita Diamant’s novel „The Red Tent“.
SpaceIL will be successful, everyone involved in the project is convinced thereof. This will make it possible to expand horizons towards new innovative ways for exploring space beyond what was discovered until now. From the point of view of the economy, this may create another strong business sector.
Only innovative Israeli nano- and micro satellite technologies (MisST) are being used to build the relatively small and cheap spacecraft. Those technologies are also state of the art at NASA and have been further developed in Israel. Those MisST are particularly suited for pictures that are taken by free-flying aircraft and forwarded. SpaceIL is about the size of a household washing machine. Instead of a rover that allows movement on the moon surface, this device will rely on the „Hop“ system. Following a first landing and taking of soil samples, SpaceIL will not move further on the ground, but will use the remaining fuel to take off again and land shortly thereafter at a 500 m distance. The conditions for a successful participation will be listed later.
In October 2015 SpaceIL announced that they are the first participant to be confirmed as taking part in the race to the moon. For the end of 2017 an agreement was signed with the US American SpaceX Rocket Company. SpaceIL is to be brought to its target by a Falcon 9 rocket.
Presently SpaceIL is being equipped by the Israeli Aerospace Industries with the most important electronic components and is submitted to rigorous tests under conditions similar to those in space.
What are the assignments in this highly endowed competition?
The objectives to be attained actually sound quite simple:
- The spacecraft is to land on the surface of the moon
- It must move to a distance of 500 m
- High resolution photographs and videos are to be transmitted to earth
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
However upon taking a closer look at the conditions, there are several crucial points!
- Both the planned start and as a result of it the planned landing must be announced in advance.
- The route to be covered by the spacecraft can be either under, on or over the surface of the moon. The distance can be covered either directly between two previously defined points, or else with a series of also previously announced and authorized segments. SpaceIL has chosen the air route – see above.
- Two high-resolution videos of 8 minutes each must be transmitted to earth in real-time. The first video immediately after landing and the second immediately before the end of the mission. A 360° camera must send panoramic pictures from the landing site and/or the work area.
- The SpaceIL team must transmit a data paket of 100 kilobytes volume prepared by XPRIZE to the spacecraft and back to earth.
- Each team must attach to the space craft a paket including a data carrier and a commemorative tablet. The attachment must be made in a manner allowing later moon explorers to easily find the packet.
What can be won?
- The first prize amounts to 20 million US$
- The second placeis endowed with 6 million US$
Milestone amounts will be paid for any accomplishments achieved during preparations. In case that the winner of the first and/or second place is one of the milestone winners, the amounts received will be deducted from the prize money. Until now 5,25 million US$ were paid, p.e. 1 million each to Teams Indu and Hakuto and 2 millions to Moon Express.
Bonus amounts up to a total of 4 million US$ will be paid for special unplanned scientific or technical findings.
Apollo Heritage Bonus for the team that will succeed in creating a significant reminder of the Apollo missions 11 to 17. In this case, in order to win 4 million US$, two additional videos, a panoramic photograph and a meaningful picture of the spacecraft are to be transmitted to earth.
Water Detection Prize 4 million US$ for the team that can give a scientifically verifiable proof of the existence of water on the moon.
Survival Bonus Prize. The reward for the teams whose spacecraft will survive a lunar night with fully functional equipment and can fulfill its tasks on the second day will be rewarded with 2 million US$. The temperature fluctuation goes from about 123°C during the day and minus 150° C during the night. Of course, this success has to be verified with the corresponding video and panoramic photographs, as well as with mail and text messages.
Not only the young scientists at SpaceIL are convinced that their mission will be successful. They have succeeded in finding quite a few private partners and supporters, who will supply them with the necessary financial resources so that the project may succeed.
For those of you who have found this exciting project too dry, here is a video by Frank Sinatra with his famous song „Fly me to the moon“, that was dedicated to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the two first human beings who set foot on the moon on July 21, 1969.
© esther scheiner, israel
Translated by: Translation International, Herzliya