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Scientists, pupils present prospective lunar craft
By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH
07/11/2012
Tiny space vehicle due to launch in a few years for unmanned landing on the moon presented to Knesset.
 
A tiny space vehicle that scientists and teenage science students in Israel have developed together is in its final stages of development and is due to launch in a few years on the back of a large communications satellite for an unmanned landing on the moon.

On Tuesday, representatives of the team presented a model for the first time at a meeting of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee’s subcommittee on space, which Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin heads.

The model’s design is the work of 150 adults and teens participating in the Space IL project, which aims to encourage young people to study space subjects, and to train the next generation of space scientists. Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yehonatan Weintraub, three young engineers, launched the project with a non-profit organization they set up in 2010.

Dozens of volunteers are working to turn Israel into the fifth country in the world, after the former Soviet Union and the US, to have landed spacecraft on the moon. A few others have crashed spacecraft on the moon’s surface.

The spacecraft is expected to weigh only 90 kilos and be 80 cm. by 80 cm.

in size. When it lands, legs on springs will open, making the spacecraft’s height a human-sized 1.6 meters.

Engineers and experts in a variety of other fields will put together the vehicle under sterile conditions. It is expected to be the smallest object ever to land on the moon, and therefore show that one can build miniature “smart” spacecraft (the smaller and more compact the space vehicle, the more complex it is to cram all the necessary equipment inside).

The launchpad will be a 4-ton communications satellite that will be sent into space anyway. Playing piggyback this way saves a lot of money compared to launching it from Earth.

Israel Aircraft Industries checked the working model carefully only a month ago.

Space IL is the only Israeli representative in the international Google Lunar X-Prize competition for landing an unmanned vehicle on the moon.

All the prizes will total $30 million, but if the Israelis win, the team members are obligated to donate the prize money to the advancement of technological and science education in Israel.

Among the many institutions involved were Israel Aircraft Industries, the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion universities, and the Rafael, Elbit, Aeronautics and Gilat companies.

Although Israel has never sent any astronauts itself into space, it has built many successful and compact communications satellites that other space agencies have launched.

Israel has the advantage of smallness; it is the only country in the world where all the relevant technologies for the project are located only an hour from each other by car.

The teenage participants not only helped adult scientists plan the space vehicle, but also chose the landing site on the moon and developed an Internet portal for displaying the project’s status.

So far, some 14,000 Israeli teens have participated in space-related activities inspired by the Space IL project. Some of them are expected to go on to a “future space scientist” project at TAU to complete a bachelor’s degree in physics; join a project for promoting girls in science studies in Ashdod; and, for pupils at ORT, give lectures to the public.
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