Nov 16, 2017 | By Benedict

Israeli nonprofit startup SpaceIL is using 3D printed legs on its unmanned space lander, a spacecraft competing for more than $20 million in prize money as part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE initiative. The 3D printed legs are being supplied by Zurich’s RUAG Space.

Most 3D printed legs reported on in the 3D printing news sphere are of a particular type: prosthetic limbs for humans. However, Israeli startup SpaceIL is using 3D printed legs on its unmanned lunar lander that could be sent to the Moon by the end of March.

The mission to send the partially 3D printed lander to the Moon is all part of SpaceIL’s quest to win the Google’s XPRIZE initiative. Five privately funded teams—SpaceIL included—are hoping to snatch the $20 million top prize by building the first spacecraft out of the five to reach the Moon.

The five competitors are SpaceIL (Israel), Moon Express (US), Synergy Moon (International), TeamIndus (India), and HAKUTO (Japan). The competition is fierce, but SpaceIL may think it has the edge by virtue of having been the first team to receive verification and approval of their launch contract.

There is also a runner-up prize of $5 million and bonus prizes worth $5 million, bringing the total prize money to $30 million.

3D printed legs could eventually help SpaceIL’s lander race to the Moon first, but the nonprofit startup had to be convinced by Swiss supplier RUAG Space that the idea was a good one.

And it’s not just SpaceIL who are skeptical of the benefits of additive manufacturing. According to Zurich-based RUAG, there’s a reluctance amongst companies in space and aerospace to try using 3D printing—even when the benefits could be great.

“Space is very conservative,” commented RUAG executive Franck Mouriaux. “We need to convince people that this technology is real.”

So will the partially 3D printed lunar lander convince anyone? And more importantly, will it work?

At first, the vehicle went through a few problems. These, however, were caused by the craft’s non-printed engine, not the 3D printed struts that make up its legs, so RUAG remains confident that its creation will hold up.

The legs are an important part of the spacecraft too: unlike traditional rovers, the SpaceIL machine will “hop” when it arrives on the moon, using the remaining fuel in its tank to travel a further 500 meters.

SpaceIL will be confident that this hop goes smoothly, partly because RUAG has experience with some big additive manufacturing names, and has channeled that experience for the lunar lander. Altair and EOS have both worked with the Swiss company, for 3D printing projects and the creation of spacecraft and satellite components.

But SpaceIL’s association with the Swiss supplier will only pay off if its lunar lander can reach the Moon’s surface, travel 500 meters, and transmit HD videos and images back to Earth—these being the criteria required for the Google prize.

If successful, SpaceIL—led by CEO Eran Privman and co-founders Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Winetraub—will land the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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