SpaceIL seeks to inspire Israelis

SpaceIL photo: Alon Hadar

The SpaceIL organization expects its Moon landing to prompt more young people to study science and engineering.

SpaceIL, which is cooperating with Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) in the development of a robot spaceship for launching to the moon, yesterday announced that the launch would take place in December. The spacecraft will be sent to the US in early November for launching from Cape Canaveral and is scheduled to land on the Moon on February 13, 2019.

The spacecraft will be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket of SpaceX, controlled by entrepreneur Elon Musk. It will be a secondary cargo and will be launched into space together with a satellite. The spacecraft will undergo a series of intensive tests and trials at IAI in the coming months in order to prove its durability under launch, flight, and landing conditions. SpaceIL has developed a laboratory and simulator that simulate true conditions in space for this purpose.

SpaceIL says that the spacecraft landing on the Moon will be extremely small: 1.5 meters high and two meters wide. The fuel it carries will account for 75% of its weight - 600 kilograms, less than a tenth of the weight of the other satellite taking off into space together with it on SpaceX's launcher. Upon landing, it will weigh only 180 kilograms. Its maximum speed will be 36,000 kilometers per hour.

According to the plan, the spacecraft will disconnect from the rocket when it reaches a height of 60,000 kilometers above the Earth half an hour after launch. It will begin orbiting the Earth in elliptical orbit in a long and complicated path that will save on fuel in order to reduce its weight. When the end of the elliptical path comes close to the Moon, the spaceship will activate its engines and slow down in order to allow the Moon's gravity to capture the spacecraft in orbit around it. Once in the Moon's orbit, the spacecraft will continue orbiting the Moon until the right time for entering a landing pattern, which will be done autonomously by the spacecraft's navigational control system.

When the spacecraft lands on the Moon, it will bear Israel's flag and broadcast still pictures, videos, and even a selfie picture. The spaceship will then begin measuring the magnetic field as part of a scientific experiment trial conducted in cooperation with the Weizmann Institute. After two days, the spacecraft will complete its mission and remain on the Moon.

"The timetable is crowded and difficult, but we'll meet it"

SpaceIL, a non-profit organization, was founded in 2011 by three engineers - Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Winetraub - in order to promote scientific education in Israel. Construction of the spacecraft began two years later in facilities provided by IAI. SpaceIL originally hoped to win Google's Lunar XPRIZE and reached the finals of the competition, but eventually failed to meet the stipulated timetable, and the competition ended with no winners.

Nevertheless, despite concern that its activity would be terminated for lack of cash, SpaceIL continued its activity with the aim of adding Israel to the exclusive club of countries that have landed on the Moon, the only members of which are the US, the former Soviet Union, and China. NIS 320 million has been invested in the spaceship to date, most of it from private donors, headed by Morris Kahn, the president of SpaceIL, who donated nearly a third of the amount. The organization says that it wants to prove that it is possible to achieve things in space research even on a small budget.

"We're trying to duplicate the Apollo effect that happened in the US," Kahn said at the press conference, "to encourage people to study engineering, mathematics, and science. We need such people if we want to continue being the startup nation. Because of this, we're going to schools and meeting with children."

IAI CEO Joseph Weiss added, "The future of humanity is in space. We read about climate change, the expected hunger, and problems with water and energy resources. The Earth is starting to be too small for humanity. We have to think well about a backup plan. It's no wonder that space budgets around the world are growing exponentially."

SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby told "Globes" that one of the main challenges in the process was building the spacecraft so that it would be as small and lightweight as possible for reasons of economy. "We had to plan it in a smart way so that the structure would be very small. In order to achieve a breakthrough, we also abandoned redundancy in some of our systems - something that is not always accepted in the space industry. Every spacecraft has two communications devices, one of which backs up the other, but we have only one communications device."

"Globes": Isn't that risky?

"It puts us under pressure," Anteby admits, "but we performed intensive tests on the communications device and we're convinced that we made good decisions that will prove themselves in the spacecraft."

How final is your timetable?

"If there is no significant malfunction, we'll meet the timetable, although it is crowded and difficult," Anteby says. IAI MBT Space Division general manager Ofer Doron adds, "On February 13, 2019, we're landing on the Moon. It will be a big surprise if we don't."

IAI has been involved in the project from the first day. Were there hesitations about getting involved in this adventure?

"Yes, many," Doron admits. "Getting involved is no small thing. We invested a lot in this, but we decided that it was important at the national level. There's a great opportunity to attract young people to technological education and bring the civilian space program to public awareness."

"There won't be another Elon Musk here"

"When we began, we didn't think that it would take so long," Damari told "Globes," "but we're really getting close now and it's exciting. We can finally tell the world that it's happening in another minute. But there's a lot more work and despite all the testing facilities, you can't really check everything on Earth. There's also educational work to make sure that children feel part of it when it happens."

Damari sheds additional light on the spacecraft's autonomous system. "After SpaceX releases us in space, the spacecraft is still controlled by the control center at IAI in Yehud, but when we get close to the Moon, the spacecraft is given an order to land and it has to do this in about three seconds. A lot of effort goes into this moment; it's one of the few things that Israel has never done."

The space industry in the US is shifting more and more into private hands. Do you think this will also happen in Israel?

Anteby: "There won't be another Musk here, but certain elements will be given to civilian industry because it's cheaper."

Doron: "In the US we' re seeing growth in the government space budget, together with the growth of private industry. This combination is the key to a strong space program. The same thing is happening in the UK. Israel has to understand that this is the path to success - to put real money into the civilian space program, and together with it, the space economy in Israel will increase employment and pull the country forward. The government's investment in space is out of line with what is happening in other places in terms of per capita investment. The US annually invests 20 times as much per capita in its civilian space program as the Israeli government."

What is your next step after this project?

Anteby: "On the technological side, we haven't decided. We're focusing on the Moon landing. We know that we'll go on acting on the educational side."

"We have exciting months ahead," Doron summarizes. "I'm willing to bet that if we give a physics test to a person in the street in February 2019, he will know a lot more about physics than now, just like everyone has become a football commentator because of the World Cup."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 11, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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SpaceIL photo: Alon Hadar
SpaceIL photo: Alon Hadar
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