July 19, 2011
Israeli mission to moon for Google contest demands appeal to local donors
Kfir Damari, Yonatan Winetraub and Yariv Bash were in Los Angeles last week in an effort to raise $10 million for the construction of a robot that they hope to send to the moon.
The three Israelis are hoping to win the Google Lunar X Prize, which will award $20 million to the first team that successfully launches a robot that lands on the moon, walks 1,500 feet and takes high-resolution photos and videos there, then transmits them back to Earth.
The Google Lunar X Prize — a partnership between the X Prize Foundation and Google — will also award $5 million to the second team to successfully complete the tasks, and $4 million will go to a team that completes other objectives, such as landing next to sites of old Apollo missions and detecting water. An additional $1 million will go to the team that “demonstrates the greatest attempts to promote diversity in the field of space exploration,” according to the contest site. Google is sponsoring the competition and providing the prize money.
Scientists from all over the world are participating in the contest and formed teams. The Israelis’ team name is named Team SpaceIL.
“Our mission in SpaceIL is to put the Israeli flag on the moon. To become the third country to ever soft land on the moon,” said Winetraub, chief technology officer of Team SpaceIL.
To win, the team must first raise the money on its own for the construction of their robots and fulfill all parts of the mission. Ninety percent of each team’s funds must come from private contributors. The contest opened at the beginning of this year, and the objectives must be completed by 2015.
Team SpaceIL has raised approximately $1 million so far, most of it from Israeli supporters. It is the only Israeli team among the 29 participating.
If the team wins, the award money will go toward promoting youth education in science and technology in Israel. “We’re not in it for the money,” Winetraub said, “We’re in it to make a change. We’re in it to make history.”
Winetraub, 24, Damari, 28, and Bash, 30, began working six months ago. The design for their robot — named “Sparrow” — is complete and the three are in the midst of “building the hardware and testing it,” Winetraub said. They recently launched “an experimental rocket to test the landing sensors of the spaceship” and conducted another test involving engine pressure, he said.
They are working out of Tel Aviv University and in facilities belonging to Israeli technology companies, such as Israel Aerospace Industries, an aerospace and defense company. Approximately 80 volunteers — the majority of them Israeli — including space industry experts, researchers, educators and students, are helping with the project.
As of July 15, their last day in Los Angeles, the three had not secured any financial commitments here but had made connections that could lead to donations, Damari, chief operating officer of Team SpaceIL, said.
The Southern California-Israel Chamber of Commerce and Jumpstart, a local nonprofit dedicated to Jewish innovation, organized the team’s presentations in Los Angeles.
“We just want to be there first and take the $20 [million] prize,” Damari said. While many at the meeting wondered when SpaceIL hopes to launch, Damari declined to name specifics but remained confident, saying, “At least one day before the other teams.”
For more information, visit spaceil.com.