The moon The moon A full moon is visible in this view above Earth’s horizon. (Photo courtesy NASA)

Dishwasher-sized spacecraft in race to the moon

Israeli team hopes its tiny capsule will win Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.

Buckle your seat belts and hold on tight: we’re going back to the moon. So declares the website for Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition that challenges space professionals and engineers around the world to build a privately funded spacecraft and send it to the moon to complete a series of exploration and transmission tasks.

Eighteen teams from countries around the world are vying for a $20 million grand prize from Google. Included in the teams is a group of Israelis building a spacecraft the size of a dishwasher.

SpaceIL is an Israeli nonprofit organization founded in 2011, when three young Israeli engineers decided to enter the international contest. They are using cutting-edge Israeli nano- and micro-satellite technologies in an attempt to build the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the moon.

The SpaceIL craftA glimpse of the Israeli capsule. (Photo courtesy SpaceIL)

Other teams include the Barcelona Moon Team, the first Spain-based team to enter the competition; the Penn State Lunar Lion Team, comprised of students and faculty from Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory; and Synergy Moon, an international team made up of working groups from 15 different countries.

For all teams, technical hurdles and staying within budget are obvious issues, observes Dr. Lance Erickson, a rocket scientist and former Fulbright Scholar who teaches applied aviation sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Erickson believes the Lunar XPRIZE will stimulate the development of commercial space exploration and the collaboration between industries and research groups that has previously been limited to government projects.

“What's important is the success of the first XPRIZE in stimulating the commercial space flight opportunities that are now coming to fruition," Erickson told From the Grapevine. “Innovation in this exploration realm will likely produce advances and opportunities not seen in the civil and military space programs."

To win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters (one-third of a mile) and transmits a high-definition video and images back to Earth.

The first team to accomplish the mission will claim $20 million, while the second-place team will earn a $5 million prize. Teams are also eligible to win $1 million for stimulating diversity in the field of space exploration and as much as $4 million in bonus prizes for accomplishing other technical tasks.

The Google Lunar XPRIZE is available to be claimed until the end of 2015. 


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