Fly me to the moon: NASA boost for first Israeli lunar lander

Ido Anteby, SpaceIL's CEO stands in front of an unmanned spacecraft which an Israeli team plans to launch into space at the end of the year and to land it on the Moon next year, in Yahud, Israel. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
Ido Anteby, SpaceIL's CEO stands in front of an unmanned spacecraft which an Israeli team plans to launch into space at the end of the year and to land it on the Moon next year, in Yahud, Israel.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
An attempt to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon has moved one small step closer after NASA signed an agreement with the Science and Technology Ministry on Wednesday to contribute specialist space technology to the groundbreaking project led by SpaceIL.
SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit organization founded in 2011 to compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, aims to launch its spacecraft to the moon in December 2018 with an estimated landing date of February 13, 2019.
The agreement, which was signed at the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, will see a NASA laser retroreflector array installed on the SpaceIL spacecraft to aid with ground tracking after landing on the moon and will offer Deep Space Network support to aid in mission communication.
SpaceIL and the Israel Space Agency (ISA) will share data with NASA from the spacecraft’s lunar magnetometer instrument, which will detect and measure the presence of magnetic fields on the lunar surface. The data will be shared publicly through NASA’s Planetary Data System, a long-term archive of digital data returned from NASA’s planetary and other missions.
In addition, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic spacecraft launched in June 2009 and currently orbiting the moon, will attempt to take scientific measurements of the SpaceIL lander as it lands on the moon.
“Cooperation between Israel and the United States is growing stronger in all fields, including the connection between NASA and the ISA,” said Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis following the announcement. “Israel is proud to be part of the renewed journey to the moon and to advance our technological abilities everywhere.”
The agreement follows the visit of NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to Israel in June, during which he met representatives of SpaceIL and a memorandum of understanding was signed with the ISA to promote cooperation between the agencies.
“I am delighted to extend the commercial progress we’ve made near Earth to the lunar environment with this new agreement with the Israel Space Agency and SpaceIL,” Bridenstine said following Wednesday’s announcement. “Innovative partnerships like this are going to be essential as we go forward to the moon and create new opportunities there.”
SpaceIL was one of the five finalists of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition offering $20 million to the first non-governmental team to land on the moon, travel 500 meters and send high-definition video and pictures back to earth.
The competition ended with no winners in March after Google ended its sponsorship but, despite the setback, SpaceIL still decided to pursue the completion of their objective to reach the moon.
“As a private initiative that was born as a brave idea against all odds, it is a great honor for us that NASA considers us a worthy partner in the field of deep space,” said Dr. Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL.
“We are hopeful that our spacecraft is only the harbinger of further space missions and technological challenges in the field,” Anteby said. “I believe that Israel has great potential for development in the field of space, especially given its aerospace industry experience, as can be seen by the industry’s participation in the SpaceIL mission.”