DeepSpaceNews — The last ditch deadline for an Israeli firm to raise the $7.5M it needs to stay in the Google Lunar XPrize competition is just seven days away, its CEO said today.custom thruster and other parts.
It’s a stunning reversal of fortune. And there’s more than a big $20M Lunar XPrize win at stake here.
If it makes it to the lunar surface, it’ll become the fourth nation in the world (after the US, Russia and China) to land on the moon.
Google Lunar Xprize, or not.
Even if it can’t hack the controlled landing, 500M lander trip and high-res live transmission of images and videos it needs to win the No. 1 spot, merely landing at all is a big deal in this country.
“The impact of our spacecraft’s launch and its historic weeks-long journey to land on the moon will resonate for years to come,” SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman said today in a global online appeal for donations.
.“Our spacecraft is now completed and stopping here is simply not an option,” he added. “We are determined to complete our mission, but we urgently need help.”
How did a high-flying moonshot project spearheaded by billionaires, promoted by politicians and followed by pretty much everyone wind up in such a tenuous place.
Every Israeli man, woman and child who hasn’t been been avoiding national media may soon be asking that question. And it’s a good one.
Moon dreams and missions
It isn’t just grown up Israelis who are liable to mourn the grounding of a project that’s been capturing imaginations for half a decade now.
The some 100,000 Israeli kids who regularly follow the mission through regular, live SpaceIL updates on the mission will be first to feel the impact if SpaceI is grounded by its debtors. They’ve been following this adventure for five years, the span of their entire lives as students.
What does landing involve? What’s the point of the magnetic field experiments it hopes to perform in space? What makes its custom designed thruster different, and do any of its competing thrusters hop, instead of role, to speed travel? What design changes did SpaceIL introduce two years ago, and what difference might they make in the contest?
Israeli kids will floor you with their replies.
Israeli kids’ devotion to the project and interest in it is by design.
Fact is, they’ve been the rallying point for SpaceIL and the crux of its mission from the very beginning: That is, quite simply, to use the excitement of the project to inspire Israeli youngsters and other Jewish children and teens in other nations to prize science, engineering, technology and math.
The firm has earmarked any prize money it wins to promote STEM among kids to that end, a vision it calls the “Apollo Effect.” The net result, it hopes, will be to fire up interest in STEM courses and, eventually, careers in science and engineering.
Instead of launching a generation of Israeli scientists and engineers, both of whom are in ever shorter supply, say demographers, could the grounding of SpaceIL launch a generation of jaded entrepreneurs, who somehow think that business and cash are the final arbiter of everything?
That’s my fear, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.
It’s by no means certain that SpaceIL will fail in raising the money it needs to pay its technology partners.
As desperate as the SpaceIL situation sounds right now, after all, it’s an improvement over the state of affairs last month, when SpaceIL execs announced that their billionaire patron, Morris Kahn, had turned tale. Though Kahn at the time said he was good for another $10 million, he needed the company to raise $20M first..
It was a surprise reversal for SpaceIL watchers, no question. Kahn was the angel who provided the $50,000 entrance fee SpaceIL’s founders needed to enter the contest in the first place, and he’s served as its chairman and, often, emergency bank account, right up until his recent exit.
But Kahn isn’t getting the blame for the dearth of funds. “Costs (have) ballooned far beyond the team’s initial expectations, from $8 million to $85 million,” said SpaceIL CEO Privman. “We now need to raise an additional $30 million before the end of Hanukkah for payments to Spaceflight Industries for the launch and Israel Aerospace Industries for building and testing the spacecraft,” plus staff engineers. other partners and for paying its 20 engineers, or it forfeits the launch contract – and the race.
“We have already received $22.5 million in pledges,” he added, “so everything is contingent on its raising the final $7.5 million before the Dec. 20 deadline.”
Eighty percent of all the needed cash is for Israel Aerospace, the firm said last month.
I don’t know about you, but for this, it begs a question.
Why a close, longterm partner like IAI wouldn’t accept a bridge loan or even a longer tail effort to raise that comparatively small amount is unclear.
Representatives at the firm as yet have not returned DSN’s calls for comment.
The final countdown
For observers here in Silicon Valley, what happens with SpaceIL is an interesting thing to watch. But for Israelis — and Israeli children — there is much more at stake. Underestimating costs by such huge margins, if that’s what’s happened, or failing to hang onto to a deep-pocketed billionaire who up to now seemed fine with being the primary investor and caretaker, if that’s what happened, do sound like business mistakes. Big ones.
But in light of an entire nation’s hopes and dreams, after years of stoking them, it seems .. unseemly. Certainly, such well-heeled SpaceIL supporters as the Israel Space Agency, Tel Aviv University, Israel Aerospace Industries, the Technion, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rafael Systems, Elbit Systems and Ben-Gurion University, among many others, can toss a few bucks forward.
Or maybe the great savior will turn out to be an investor as rich as its former caretaker Kahn is. Someone, say, like Sheldon Adelson. The casino mogul injected $16 million back in 2014.
Why not now, when it’s needed?
SpaceIL for what it’s worth, asks potential major donors who want to help Israel reach contact its COO, Sari Brosh Rechav, directly — and soon. He’s over on the SpaceIL website,
At any rate, I’m betting there’s more to this story. I’m covering it for you. Stay tuned.
For DeepSpaceNews, I am T.E. Wing.