Space IL: Flying to the moon on a shoestring

Israeli scientists are using smart  science to build a budget spacecraft (Photo: courtesy)

Israeli scientists are using smart science to build a budget spacecraft (Photo: courtesy)

British donors have raised £610,000 towards Israel’s budget space mission to the moon.

The SpaceIL unmanned capsule is due to launch next year at a cost of only £22 million, funded by private investors —the cost of space missions is usually counted in billions.

Daniel Saat, in charge of fundraising and business development, was in London to promote the project. He said £13 million had been raised so far, including the contribution from the UK.

Space IL has kept costs down by employing only 20 full-time staff, relying on the help of over 250 volunteer experts.

More important is its scientists ’unique expertise in developing micro and nano-satellites.

Mr Saat explained: “Most countries prefer to launch their satellites to the east due to the rotation of the earth. Israel can’t launch satellites to the east because we have some unfriendly neighbours there.

“So we have to launch our satellites west — this means that we have to make the mass of the satellite smaller and smaller. Over the past 20 years we’ve built the smallest and smartest satellites on earth.”

Yariv Bash, one of the project’s co-founders, said that the craft would carry seeds and soil samples.

“We want to produce the first plants which are able to grow outside the earth,” he said.

The SpaceIL project has been running for four years. It is the only independent non-profit group to have entered Google’s Lunar X competition, which aims to promote privately-funded attempts to land on the moon. The Israelis are thought to be one of the main front-runners to win the first prize of £18 million.

For a much smaller amount of money — around £12 — enthusiasts will be able to to receive the first image the spacecraft takes of the moon and speak to the founders by video conference.

“The message is that you can feel part of our mission,” said Mr Saat.

Last updated: 10:45am, April 4 2014