A computer-generated image of the spacecraft, due to launch in 2015
A team of Israeli scientists hope to boldly go where no countryman has gone before — by landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.
The SpaceIL project’s mission is to make Israel only the third country ever to complete a successful lunar landing.
The privately-funded effort is part of an attempt to collect the £12.5 million prize offered in the Google Lunar X competition, entered by dozens of explorers worldwide.
If successful, SpaceIL will fly a washing machine-sized craft to the moon in 2015 to take pictures and video footage and perform exploratory manoeuvres.
But Yonatan Winetraub, SpaceIL co-founder and co-chief executive of the project, said the desire to win the prize was equalled by the intention to inspire a generation of Israeli and Jewish children to take an interest in space exploration.
The team received a boost last month with a substantial donation from an Anglo-Jewish businessman. No details of the donor or the amount have been revealed publicly, but the JC understands it is a guarantee of more than £500,000 of funding. SpaceIL has an annual budget of around £6m.
The figure represents a relatively cheap attempt at space exploration — Nasa’s Mars rover mission is expected to cost around $2.5bn.
Mr Winetraub previously worked on the Nasa project and is now responsible for the construction of the Israeli spacecraft.
“We believe it is time for a change. Our incentive is what we call the ‘Apollo effect’ — we want to give today’s kids the belief that they could be rocket scientists or engineers. We want to inspire them,” he said.
“Israel is usually perceived differently from the way many Israelis would like it to be. This is a different story and would be an incredible achievement.”
Mr Winetraub’s team of 10 engineers and scientists are working on creating what would be the smallest spacecraft ever to land on the moon. It will weigh only around 35kg, and will be piloted remotely with robotic assistance.
“Spacecraft are not things you can just build in your garage. We have Israel Aerospace Industries, Technion and the Weizmann Institute working with us,” he said.
“These guys know how to build spacecraft and we are utilising their expertise. They allow us to build in their facilities with the vacuum chambers and they also provide us with research and development assistance.”
There are also around 170 volunteers lending a hand. “It’s amazing that there are 170 people in Israel who can say that in their spare time they are building a rocket to the moon,” said Mr Winetraub.