Lunar X Prize Inspires Israelis to Fly Sparrow to the Moon

Lunar X Prize

The Lunar X prize inspired Israelis to fly Sparrow to the moon. Working on a shoestring budget, Yariv Bash, the founder of SpaceIL has 250 Israeli engineers and scientists developing a launch vehicle currently named Sparrow. It is expected to land on the surface of the moon by 2015. Sparrow is the Israeli entry for the Lunar X prize sponsored by Google.

Bash, founder of SpaceIL, believes Sparrow’s moon landing will be 15 minutes of intense horror or 15 minutes of much earned fame. The Israeli advantage comes from Sparrow being a small unmanned spacecraft roughly the size of a dishwasher with legs. Weighing 300 pounds, Sparrow will remain on the lunar surface conducting a scientific study on the moon’s magnetic core.

The six-sided grey shuttle will carry eight cameras and nine computers making it the smallest and the smartest entry among the private firms competing for a $20 million prize to successfully land on the moon. The smaller vehicle means there is less fuel and overall costs to launching the lunar module.

Sparrow is in its prototype phase. Plans to start building the real lunar spacecraft will begin later this year and will take 12 to 18 months to complete. The project has the support of Israeli philanthropists and has raised $21 million in donations. Bash expects the overall cost to be $36 million; a goal he believes SpacIL can achieve. Other competing teams are estimated to be spending $50 to $100 million for their projects.

Daniel Saat of SpaceIL’s business development team has a difficult time trying to sell the concept of landing an Israeli lunar module to investors. Saat has good intelligence that SpaceIL’s entry is one of three real contenders for the contest. He is 90 percent sure Sparrow can successfully land on the moon and perform the necessary feats to win the Lunar X prize. He seeks backers inspired by SpacIR’s 250 volunteers.

To date, only the U.S. and China have successfully landed on the moon. Previous Soviet attempts have only crash landed on the surface.

Google’s Lunar X completion began in 2007 and is set to complete in 2015. The challenge is for a privately funded space flight to successfully land on the moon and travel across its surface while sending back telemetry. There is a $20 million first prize for a team to accomplish that goal and a $5 million prize for the second place team. Being able to send images of the Apollo landings or discovering evidence of ice on the lunar surface garners further prizes. The competition began with 33 teams. Only 18 competitors remain representing the U.S., Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Brazil, and Chili.

Bash said SpaceIL is close to signing a launch agreement. Sites in the United States, Europe, Russia, and Kazakhstan are being considered. The small size of the lunar module will prove cost-effective in launching the vehicle. It can be added with other payloads. The Lunar X prize has inspired Israelis to fly Sparrow to the moon and should they win, the team of SpaceIL will consider new projects such as sending a probe to Mars.

By Brian T. Yates


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