Aiming for the moon

The SpaceIL team hopes that their project will boost Israeli children’s interest in science

Moon Satellite521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Moon Satellite521
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israeli technology has already conquered cyberspace by launching innovative online messaging programs, computer security software and navigation apps; so where is the next stop? If one asks the three young engineers, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonathan Weintraub, the answer is a simple one – real space, the moon.
The idea of going to the moon came up after Bash heard about Google’s Lunar X Prize, with the search engine giant offering $20 million in prize money to the team that can send a robot to the moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to earth.
Today, some two years after the three sat down together at a bar and used a napkin to scribble down the problems they may encounter, the team that is taking part in the competition, as SpaceIL (http://www., has grown to include over 200 volunteers. The target date for launch is 2015.
According to the rules laid down by Google, the teams must be at least 90 percent privately funded, although reasonable sales to government customers are allowed without restriction; and in February, Bezeq, one of Israel’s largest communication companies, became the first corporate sponsor of the project, which has also gained the support of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel Aviv University, Elbit Systems, defense contractor Rafael and the Israel Space Agency. Most of the funding has been provided by local entrepreneurs.
The initial idea of building a capsule the size of a shoe box was dropped and replaced by a small satellite, which will bypass the first and most expensive stage of leaving earth by hitching a ride on a commercial rocket that is already set to leave for space. Now, the team can focus on the return to earth. SpaceIL, however, doesn’t view the competition merely as a test of their wits; its mission “is to give back to the community in Israel by focusing on education in an area we are passionate about – scientific innovation.”
The mission statement also notes that “technological education leads to national and global leadership. In a country that is short on natural resources, and renowned for its ingenuity, science and technology play a major role in the economy as one of Israel’s central resources. Advanced scientific and technological education is the backbone of development and success in a multitude of fields.”
The team hopes that the project will have the same effect on Israeli society that the American space race had in the United States in the 1960s, so that Israeli children will become interested in science and Israel will continue to be a global technology powerhouse.
SpaceIL is currently involved in a number of outreach initiatives aimed at promoting scientific and technological education, such as lectures for children and students of all ages about aerospace engineering in educational institutions like the Herzliya Science Center, as well as organizing creativity events focused on cutting-edge technologies.
For example, school children have been encouraged to scout the moon for a safe landing spot because the robot will have to have the landing spot pre-programmed before takeoff, as opposed to the Apollo 11 mission, which had Neil Armstrong on board to make last-minute changes to make sure that the landing went smoothly.
If they were to win, the team says the prize money will be reinvested in science education, since, as they state, scientific and technological education is at the heart of scientific infrastructure.