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TMCNet:  Israel, U.S. team up in Google moon-lander race

[November 27, 2012]

Israel, U.S. team up in Google moon-lander race

JERUSALEM, Nov 27, 2012 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Odyssey Moon, a U.S. team that had been competing against over two dozen other nations in a Google-backed private initiative to land a mobile robot on the moon, has decided to throw in the towel and join the Israeli team, SpaceIL, local media reported Monday.

The 24 competitors, hailing from Britain, Spain, Italy and other nations on several continents, are all vying for the millions of U.S. dollars of prize for safely setting down an unmanned craft on the lunar surface, remotely guiding it at least 500 meters, and transmitting live, high-resolution images of the feat back to Earth.

"This team has a tremendously high probability of achieving one of the greatest space challenges of our time, the landing of a private, non-governmental lander on the moon. This will probably be one of the largest media events of 2015," Odyssey Moon advisor Michael Potter said in a statement.

SpaceIL chairman Yanki Margalit said the group "will keep working to complete our mission to land the first Israeli spaceship on the moon and inspire the next generation. Now, with our colleagues from Odyssey Moon Space, we are closer to the moon than ever." "It's a tough mission, but I believe that if everyone in Israel joins hands, it's possible," co-founder and communication system engineer Kfir Damari told Xinhua when the team was formed in December 2011.

The Israel Space Agency, The Weitzmann Institute of Science, Tel-Aviv University, Haifa's Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the Ramon Foundation and Israel aerospace industry leaders, Elbit and Refael, are backing SpaceIL.

The mission is exactly the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that Israel, a country largely devoid of natural resources, relies on to make it a global leader in technological innovation.

The two others behind the initiative are Yonatan Winetraub, 25, a system engineer at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and a graduate of NASA's International Space University, and Yariv Bash, 31, a computer scientist and electronics engineer. The three first met at an IAI conference in 2010.

Measuring just over 2 meters on a side at launch, the hexagonal craft will extend three legs prior to landing that will raise the vehicle to a bit over 1.5 meters height. SpaceIL's entry would be the smallest spacecraft ever to be landed on the moon, according to Israeli science news aggregator Newsgeek.

Describing the lander as a nano-satellite, the Damari said the vessel weighs 100 kg -- 80 percent of which is fuel -- and is outfitted with rocket boosters and a panoramic camera.

"It's somewhat like a cellular phone sitting on a large fuel tank," Damari said. "All the technology that we require is basically contained in a typical smartphone with its communication and imaging features." Launched in 2007, the Google Lunar X Prize aims to encourage space enthusiasts and engineers worldwide to develop cheap technologies for robotic space exploration.

According to Google, the competition has "effectively created an active lunar economy of businesses not only selling goods to other teams and independent companies, but also purchasing themselves. Mergers and acquisitions are a sign of a blossoming enterprise and these recent events represent the start of the commercial landscape for lunar exploration."

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