Only three nations made it to land something or someone on the Moon (US, USSR, China), but there could be a 4th country there soon, as a team of Israelis is getting nearer and nearer the objective.
Yariv Bash, founder of Space IL, delivered a very impressive talk during the Maker Faire Shenzhen on how the maker culture is fit to fulfil this kind of objective. The ignition of the project was when Google associated with the Lunar X Prize to reward with $20m any team reaching the Moon, moving their rovers on 500m and sending it back to Earth.
Space IL: make a rover, go to the Moon, and get a generation of kids excited about space
The objective of Yariv Bash is first and foremost to reach an “Apollo Effect” in Israel, a country with already a strong reputation in technology. Back in the 1960s, when the US made it to the Moon, the younger generation who saw it all was deeply impressed, and it triggered a sharp increase of applications in space related careers. With a launch, Space IL could also entice a new generation of kids in Israel to think big, and change the country on the long-run, projecting its startups not only in successful ground-based ventures, from Waze to Wix and, for a more recent success, Fiverr, but also in space, a new fertile field entrepreneurs.
The way the Space IL was launched is a sign of our connected times. Yariv Bash first published a message on Facebook, to know who among his friends was motivated to take something to the Moon. Israel being both a small country with a large diaspora and a reputation for high-technology, it took only a few days to gather a core team of 3 people right from the newsfeed, who started everything with a 2 pages intention note. They were in turn, through networking, able to recruit a prestigious advisory board and also the only manufacturer in Israel able to build the kind of rover they would need to roam the Moon. They are running a crowdfunding campaign in parallel on Indiegogo. I’m now officially a Moonwalker for my $60 investment, and 140 of my characters will go to the moon on a chip inside their rover : )
A community of makers to prototype fast, build at a low-price, and ask for feedback
With now 20 full-time members and about 250 volunteers in and out of Israel, SpaceIL is building “the smallest, smartest and simplest” spacecraft, which will have to manage to go in orbit, navigate its way to the moon, then land safely and send back data from a 500m trip. Being makers, a lot of the technology of the spacecraft is reused from previous devices.
And some clever tricks are found. For instance, to avoid a too heavy and bulky radar (each kilogram of useful bayload means 3 to 4 kilos of fuel and support structure on launch), they opted for a digital camera which would take send back pictures to earth, where the team would then know where the spacecraft is heading to send corrections if needed. Overall, the rover is pretty small and light, which decrease a lot its cost and make the whole project more manageable.
The timeline and budget of the Space IL is also symbolic of fast prototyping and the maker movement.
- In 2011, Yariv Bash dreamed of the project.
- In 2012, the team was able to design it fully.
- In 2013 and 2014, they have been building the spacecraft itself
- If everything’s fine, they will launch in 2015 and hopefully land it on the Moon.
The price tag is for now a mere $36m, when the original Apollo cost about $300bn. Of course, makers recycle, upcycle, reuse a lot, that’s the philosophy of open hardware where anyone can build incrementally on previous users’ design and innovation (take a look at Protei’s DIY boats for an application in sea technologies, they iterate a new boat every week based on previous results and inputs from the community)
On a symbolic plan, Space IL has already been a success, as a lot of communication and workshops at schools have made kids ask autographs to engineers.
We hope to catch up with their team at DLD in Tel-Aviv next September, until then, I have a few weeks to think of the message I want to be send to the Moon.