Israel’s moonshot project is a lot closer to reality after the SpaceIL organization, which is developing the Israeli spacecraft that will journey to the moon in 2015, acquired this month the engine for the rocket that will blast Israel’s lunar lander into space. The Israel-developed propulsion system, produced by Israel Aircraft Industries, cost several million dollars, SpaceIL said, and is “among the most critical components of the project,” the organization added.

SpaceIL is the Israeli organization that is building a “blue and white” spacecraft to compete in Google’s big Lunar X contest, which promises to award $30 million to a team that can land an unmanned, robotic craft on the moon. Once there, the craft will need to carry out several missions, such as taking high-definition video and beaming it back to earth, and exploring the surface of the moon by moving, or sending out a vehicle, that will move 500 meters along the moon’s surface.

SpaceIL’s mission, as the organization describes it, is to successfully build, launch into space, and land on the moon a space capsule, making Israel the fourth country in the world to achieve this. Over 250 volunteers are working on SpaceIL, and the project has numerous corporate and academic sponsors – most notably Israeli telecom giant Bezeq, which, besides helping with the funding, is providing optical fiber technology that will transmit the entire drama back to earth. The money, said SpaceIL, will be used largely to help fund scientific education in Israel.

SpaceIL will be competing against teams from all over the world, seeking to take home not only the prize, but the national glory that will come with being one of the select few (among them the USA, Russia, China, and Japan) to have landed a probe on the moon.

Israel’s “secret sauce,” said SpaceIL, will be its probe’s lightness. The entire thing, including the propulsion system, will weigh less than 150 kilograms (330 pounds). The probe itself – the only part of the craft that will actually reach the moon – will weigh no more than 40 kilograms, with the rest taken up by the engines and fuel tanks (the fuel tanks and fuel weigh 90 kilograms). It’s a long way to the moon, though – 384,000 kilometers – so in order to save on fuel and weight, the SpaceIL craft will hitch a ride with a commercial satellite rocket that will take it beyond the atmosphere, ejecting it after passing the earth’s field of gravity. The organization is currently discussing several launch possibilities, it said.

The SpaceIL craft won’t just be very light; it will be very small, as well. The probe will measure less than a meter long, making it the smallest probe ever to hit the lunar surface. Though small in volume, the probe will be rich in technology, with advanced cameras, computers, and recording equipment installed to record the adventure and transmit data back to earth. Its small size, the SpaceIL team hopes, will give Team Israel’s probe a leg up on other competitors.

Commenting on the propulsion system deal, SpaceIL CEO Dr. Eran Privman said “the propulsion system, together with the computer system already acquired last June, has brought the reality of the SpaceIL probe closer than ever.”