This morning, SpaceIL, in conjunction with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), announced that the first Israeli spacecraft to land on the moon, "Beresheet", will be launched this Friday morning. After a seven-week journey, the spacecraft is expected to land on the moon during April.
This is the first time that such a small country is sending a spacecraft to the moon, and the first time that such a venture is not a government project but a mission that has behind it a non-profit organization. The countries that have so far landed a spacecraft on the moon are the US, the Soviet Union, and China.
Bereshit was originally supposed to land on the moon on February 13, but the launch was postponed because of constraints at launch company SpaceX. At a press conference this morning, SpaceIL president Morris Kahn revealed that the current launch date was also at risk because of the government shutdown in the US, which made it difficult to obtain the permit to transfer the spacecraft to Cape Canaveral in Florida, from where it will be launched.
"Eight years ago we ventured on this journey that is now nearing completion in about two months when we land on the moon. We are making history and are proud to be part of a group that dreamed and realized the vision that many countries in the world share, but so far only three have realized. Yesterday we presented the Beresheet project as a gift to the President of Israel, where it was declared a national project. I couldn't be prouder than to give this gift to the people of Israel and make it part of the Israeli ethos of technology, daring and a generous dose of nerve," Kahn said.
IAI CEO Nimrod Sheffer said, “The cooperation with SpaceIL is an example of the amazing achievements that can be attained by the State of Israel and a symbol for the path Israel has walked since its establishment. Most importantly, it illustrates the loftier achievements that can still be achieved - the know-how, the capabilities and the human capital are all here. The journey to the moon is fraught with challenges, but thanks to the professionalism, determination and faith of all the partners in the project, an Israeli spacecraft will be launched to the moon in the coming days. IAI together with our partners at SpaceIL will continue to do everything necessary to ensure the success of this mission".
The Israeli spacecraft will be the smallest to land on the moon: a meter and a half high, two meters in diameter, carrying fuel that accounts for 75% of its weight - 600 kilograms. When it lands, it will weigh 180 kilograms.
The spacecraft is also unique for its low redundancy - it has no back-up systems for its various components such as are usual in space missions, making it lighter, and cheaper to build. It was developed and constructed at a cost of only $100 million
The spacecraft will be launched at about 3:45 am, Israel time. After 30 minutes, it will separate from the launcher and will be independent in space. An hour after launch, the spacecraft will enter cruise mode, and will start orbiting the earth. It will eventually enter moon orbit, and is scheduled to land on the moon on April 11.
It was also announced at today's press conference that the head of NASA visited Israel, inspected the spacecraft, and signed a cooperation agreement with SpaceIL through the Israel Space Agency. The agreement made it possible to reduce the risks to the spacecraft on its way to the moon. NASA will allow SpaceIL to use its systems to communicate with the spacecraft, and has installed a laser ranging retroreflector on it that will facilitate locating the spacecraft's position.
Once it lands on the moon, the spacecraft carrying the Israeli flag will begin taking photographs of the landing site and a selfie to prove that it has indeed landed on the moon. The spacecraft also has a scientific mission: to measure the moon's magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute.
The spacecraft carries a "time capsule" - a huge database of hundreds of digital files ranging from details about the NGO, the spacecraft and the crew of the project, national symbols, cultural items and materials collected from the general public over the years to be placed on the moon by the spacecraft.
The time capsule will remain on the moon, so that the information it carries is destined to remain there for an indefinite period, to be found by future generations.
SpaceIL was founded in 2011 by three engineers: Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Winetraub. Their aim was to promote science education in Israel. Construction of the spacecraft began two years later at IAI.
The non-profit organization originally hoped to win the Lunar XPRIZE offered by Google for the first privately-funded moon landing, and even reached the final stage, but in the end failed to meet the stipulated timetable, and the competition ended without a winner. Despite this, and despite the fear that its activity would come to an end for lack of funds, SpaceIL continued to work towards the aim of bringing Israel into the exclusive club of countries that have reached the moon.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 18, 2019
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