IT WAS another small step in what Israeli scientists hope will be a giant leap for the country’s intergalactic intentions.
The SpaceIL project, which hopes to put a robot on the moon, has signed a deal with a company that will provide a launcher for its small, unmanned spacecraft.
It has also unveiled the prototype of its SpaceIL craft. Half the size of the vehicle that will be built, it features the phrase “Am Yisroel Chai” — “the nation of Israel lives” — written on its side. Previously likened to a washing machine, the final design is more reminiscent of a huge electronic crab.
The independent non-profit group has been working for four years to prepare a vessel to land on the moon. It hopes to win Google’s Lunar X competition by sending photos and videos back to Earth.
Signing the contract with aerospace manufacturer SpaceX puts SpaceIL ahead of the other 15 teams from around the world competing for the £18 million reward. It is the only team to have made such an agreement so far.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin joined Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis and leading business figures to mark the latest development.
Mr Akunis said: “If we succeed this will be another success for Israeli entrepreneurship, Israeli science and the Israeli spirit.”
Bob Weiss, president of the Lunar X foundation, and competition chief Chanda Gonzales also attended the signing ceremony at Mr Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem last week.
One of the Israeli engineers, Kfir Namari, said: “The spacecraft we built is cheap and simple. In the future there could be commercial applications, like quarrying in outer space or launching more satellites for applications beyond GPS.
“And there are other things we’ll discover on the moon, but we don’t know what they are yet.”
An artist’s impression of the SpaceIL prototype landing craft