A digitized time capsule containing Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the traveler’s prayer Tefilat Haderech, the Bible, the Israeli flag, maps of the State of Israel, the national anthem, a photograph of Ilan Ramon – Israel’s pioneer astronaut who died in the fatal explosion of the Columbia Space Shuttle of 2006, and pictures drawn by Israeli children will be on board the joint SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) unmanned spacecraft when it is launched to the Moon this Spring, the company announced on Monday. The launch, carried by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, will make Israel the fourth country after the US, the USSR and China to embark on a lunar landing mission.
The SpaceIL spacecraft was initially meant to compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE which was announced in 2007 and discontinued on March 31, 2018. The unclaimed $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE was an inducement for privately funded teams to be the first to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit back to Earth high-definition video and images.
The Israeli spacecraft – which has been named Beresheet (beginning) – began with SpaceIL founders, Yariv Bash, Yonatan Winetraub and Kfir Damari in 2010. The three partnered with IAI in 2015 to further their project’s development.
One million Israeli children have submitted drawings depicting what they want to do when they reach the Moon. That data, along with dictionaries and hundreds of files with details of the association, spacecraft and the project, are stored on three disks which are similar to CD-ROMS but are engineered to survive space’s harsh conditions. SpaceIL and the IAI plan to leave their spacecraft on the moon as a relic for future generations.
“From the very beginning, our dreams were to inspire other kids to reach aspirations such as these,” said Opher Doron, IAI’s Space Division general manager.
Damari said a main focus of the lunar mission is to “show kids that science can be fun and exciting,” and inspire them to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post
what inspired him to co-found SpaceIL, Winetraub said: “I was passionate about space since I was a kid. When they announced the Google Lunar X Prize, I thought it would be really cool to join.” He added that although at the time he was working at IAI and had aspirations to send a spacecraft to the moon, he couldn’t get anyone excited about the idea until a mutual friend introduced him to Bash. The two sat with Damari in a Holon bar and started SpaceIL.
When asked by the Post
whether SpaceIL will see future deliveries of payloads containing scientific research, Winetraub noted: “The point is to show that a mission like this can be [done by] other companies using standard technology and with our budget. Maybe, one day, we will have many more spaceships on the Moon, even on Mars.”
SpaceIL’s module is a marvel of engineering miniaturization. “Even the smallest spaceship ever built will need to land somehow,” said Winetraub.
This feat is no simple task – launching a spacecraft and engineering it to reach a specific spot at a certain speed and from a certain distance is difficult – but Ephi, SpaceIL project manager at IAI said: “If we need to reach a target area that is 500 x 100 meters from a distance of 400,000 km in order for the spacecraft to land on the Moon, we need to engineer that precisely.”
Another problem of launching satellites from Israel was the difficulty due to Israel’s location – which is in the opposite direction of the rotation of the Earth. Therefore, in order to gain a maximal escape velocity spacecraft need to be launched as close to the equator as possible. This makes launching heavy satellites from the Middle East much more complex. Damari added that this is why Israel has developed the ability to make the smallest satellites in the world. Although this project received government funding, it only accounted for around 10% of the fees, the other 80% was largely from private donors, in particular SpaceIL Chairman Morris Kahn and Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson. Space IL co-founder Bash pointed out that it “took a few years to transition from an idea of a start-up mentality to a mature project of reaching the Moon. From day one, it was a Moon-bound project.”
Damari told the Post
“A lot of the technology that we develop in Israel is used for military or security reasons,” which later branched out to space travel.
SpaceIL’s spacecraft, the smallest lunar module to date weighing 600 kg. and measuring 1.5 meters high by 2 meters wide, and is composed of hi-tech alloys that can withstand the extreme conditions of exiting the Earth’s atmosphere, where temperatures can reach a staggering 1,500 °C. The spacecraft is meant to exit the atmosphere at 10 km per second, surpassing the current speed record of 8 km per second.
Budgeted at $95 million, the unmanned lunar module is still far less costly than manned craft, such as NASA’s Apollo 11, which cost the US close to $9.9 billion in 1969. Some 80% of funding was raised from private donors including SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn, and Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
SpaceIL and IAI are collaborating with NASA and the Weizmann Institute of Science to improve the tracking and communication with the module before, during and after landing. Scientists will also measure the magnetic field at the lunar landing site.
After its launch, Beresheet will disengage from its Falcon 9 launching rocket and begin its elliptical orbit of the Earth. After two months, the craft will land on the Moon.
“It’s quite symbolic that the People of the Book are going to take this ‘virtual’ library and put it on the surface of the Moon,” concluded Winetraub. “We’re inspired by the Ilan Ramon mission. He went where no Israeli has gone before, and today we are putting all those dreams on the spaceship, like you would take a note and put it in the Kotel [Western Wall], wishing for a brighter future.”