One Giant Step for Israel as Company Plots Moon Launch

Sabra Spaceship Competes for $30M Tech Prize

Over the Moon: Shimon Peres, Israel’s notoriously tech-happy president, greets teen space science whiz Amit Levin, who is part of a team trying to launch an Israeli space craft to the moon.
courtesy of spaceil
Over the Moon: Shimon Peres, Israel’s notoriously tech-happy president, greets teen space science whiz Amit Levin, who is part of a team trying to launch an Israeli space craft to the moon.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published April 30, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
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Compared to Levin, SpaceIL staffer Adam Green is an old man. At 24 he is in charge of planning the spacecraft’s route. He has never launched anything into space, but he has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering and says that he isn’t intimidated when consulting with top Israeli scientists, because most of them haven’t, either.

“As there’s no one in Israel with the experience of planning a mission to the moon, it’s not as daunting as it could be,” he commented. Green’s task is made even harder than a “simple” navigation to the moon by the fact that, to save costs, the Israeli craft will “hitchhike” 10% of its journey on a commercial satellite or spacecraft of a foreign space agency. Given that he won’t control the movement of the host satellite or craft, he doesn’t know exactly what his spacecraft’s starting point will be.

As GPS doesn’t work outside Earth’s orbit, the SpaceIL team had to find and create special navigation systems and orbit correction solutions to help Green. These include the Earth Moon Sensor, with a camera and photo processor that will take pictures of both Earth and the moon so that the spacecraft can position itself in relation to both. There are other homegrown Israeli inventions on board, including special “eyes,” a hazard-detection system developed with a Weizmann Institute expert on brain control processes.

The team is confident about most of the mission. “The only part that is really complicated and really new is the landing,” Damari said.

The spacecraft will hurtle toward the moon at 4,300 miles an hour. It will then use the main engine to slow down the approach — a process that will use half of the entire fuel supply. Parachutes don’t work close to the moon because there isn’t air to fill them up, so the plan is to slow the engines and stop them completely 30 feet above the surface of the moon and land via vertical free fall with the engine facing up.

SpaceIL is starting outreach activities in America. In April it showcased its prototype spacecraft at the Celebrate Israel Festival in Los Angeles and at the Israel Expo in Orange County, and it soon plans to recruit volunteers based in the United States to run workshops in Jewish schools.

“Just as many kids in Israel don’t feel connected to science, and we hope to change this, some Jewish kids abroad don’t feel connected to Israel,” he said. “This is cool enough to make them excited about Israel.”

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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