Israel will take its first step to the moon late Thursday night, as the lunar spacecraft Beresheet launches from the coast of Cape Canaveral, in a mission that, if successful, will place the Jewish state in an exclusive club of nations capable of landing on the lunar surface.
Beresheet – Genesis in English – will be launched at 3:45 a.m. (Israel time) Friday from Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and, after detaching from the launcher, will orbit the Earth for two months, before landing on the moon around April 11. The landing sequence is set to take around 15 minutes, which will be monitored by a joint group of scientists and engineers from the Israel Space Agency (ISA), the Weizmann Institute of Science and NASA. Once it lands, the probe will conduct various experiments on the Moon’s surface, testing its magnetism and geology.
If successful, the landing on the moon will make Israel the fourth country in the world to land on the lunar surface, after the former Soviet Union, the United States and China. It will be the first such space capsule to land on the moon due to a private initiative, rather than a government-funded enterprise.
The project has been spearheaded by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries and has been in the making for several years.
“Eight years ago, we ventured on this journey that is now nearing completion.... I couldn’t be prouder than to give this gift to the people of Israel,” the president of SpaceIL and its largest funder, Morris Kahn, said. Other donations came from Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, the Science and Technology Ministry, the ISA, Weizmann and various other private individuals.
This mission is no simple feat. At first, the craft will enter Earth’s orbit, but will then have to enter the moon’s orbit when the two overlap. Once it lands, pinpointing its exact location on the moon will prove difficult as well. NASA’s laser retroreflector is on board to help achieve this maneuver and assist the team of scientists to track the craft’s progress.
The CEO of IAI Nimrod Sheffer, thanked the joint team of SpaceIL and IAI who worked tirelessly to complete the project, for their professionalism, determination, faith and dedication.
The spacecraft is the smallest such craft by weight – measuring only 1.5 m. by 2 m. at 600 kg. (around 1,300 lbs.) and costs only $100 million – compared to other larger and more expensive projects.
“For many months, our teams and IAI’s were engaged in testing the spacecraft and its systems, conducting complex experiments and preparing for every possible scenario of the mission,” CEO of SpaceIL Ido Antebi said.
The spacecraft will traverse the longest distance ever to the moon – some 6.5 million km. (around 4 million miles) before it lands. Beresheet will hurdle through space at up to speeds of 10 km. per second (36,000 km/hr).
Earlier this week, President Reuven Rivlin noted that not only is this a national and historic achievement, it also aims to inspire young Israelis to study STEM-related fields and pursue their dreams of space travel.
In addition, the craft holds a “time capsule” of hundreds of files digitized on a disk, containing drawings by Israeli children, the Bible, the national anthem, prayers, Israeli songs and a map of the State of Israel, among other cultural items.
Beresheet is scheduled to be stationed on the moon for generations to come.