Moon walk

“The spacecraft project will enable every Israeli, but especially future generations, to understand that even the citizens of a small country may and should dream big."

By
February 22, 2019 03:40
3 minute read.
The Space IL lunar spacecraft 'Beresheet'

The Space IL lunar spacecraft 'Beresheet'. (photo credit: YAFIT OVADIA)

 
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There is probably nothing that demonstrates how far Israel has come since its establishment as a tiny, struggling state in 1948 as seeing where it is heading this week. If all goes well, an Israeli spacecraft named Beresheet (Genesis) is due to be launched to the moon late Thursday night.

The spacecraft is scheduled to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket along with other satellites, from the US Air Force Base at Cape Canaveral, Florida. This will be the start of a long and difficult journey. The small spacecraft is expected to orbit Earth at least six times before landing on the moon on April 11. The first thing it is expected to do there, according to scientists involved in the project, is to plant an Israeli flag, take pictures and send them back home.

However, the mission also has a serious purpose: Beresheet is meant to carry out a scientific experiment on the lunar surface, measuring and mapping the moon’s magnetic field.

The launch catapults Israel into a tiny club of countries capable of carrying out a lunar mission. Assuming it is successful, Israel will be the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the United States and China. It will be the only non-superpower in that club.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, who is traveling to Florida for the launch, issued a statement before he left saying: “The visit to the US is not merely to attend the launch of ‘Beresheet’ to the moon but is [to participate in] one of the main national and historic events in the history of the state.

“The event is one of great pride for the country and a national event in every respect,” he said. “I have no doubt that a successful launch will gladden every Israeli no less than the anticipated landing in April.”

The spacecraft has the support of the Israel Space Agency, a unit within the Science and Technology Ministry, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). But unlike the other countries that have launched similar missions, the project is nearly all privately funded – and had an unusual beginning.

The SpaceIL mission was born in 2011, originally to compete in Google’s Lunar Xprize, in which private companies were challenged to try to send a relatively cheap robotic spacecraft to land on the moon. The competition was canceled last March, when it became apparent that none of the contestants could meet the deadline, but SpaceIL did not give up the challenge.

The approximately $100-million cost of the SpaceIL project was financed largely by South African-Israeli philanthropist and SpaceIL president Morris Kahn, as well as other donors including Sami Sagol, Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Lynn Schusterman, Gloria and Harvey Kaylie, the Parasol Foundation Trust, Nancy and Steven Grant, and Sylvan Adams. Many of these donors attended a gathering at The President’s Residence in Jerusalem on Sunday.

“This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding,” said IAI in a statement.

As a result of the initial concept of the Google competition, the Israeli spacecraft is smaller than those used in previous missions by other countries. Beresheet is approximately 1.5 meters in height and approximately two meters wide when its legs are deployed.

Its weight at lift-off will be approximately 500 kilograms but the craft itself is relatively light. Most of the weight comes from the fuel needed to carry out the final stage of its flight to the moon.

Beresheet will carry a time-capsule disc to the moon, including information about Israel today, Hebrew songs, children’s drawings, memories of a Holocaust survivor and a copy of the Bible.

SpaceIL and IAI are collaborating with NASA and the Weizmann Institute of Science to improve tracking and communication with the module and to carry out experiments.

As Akunis said, “The spacecraft project will enable every Israeli, but especially future generations, to understand that even the citizens of a small country may and should dream big. The fact that Israel will be the fourth country in the world, alongside the US, Russia and China, to land a spacecraft on the moon is cogent proof that we are an international science and technology power.”

Beresheet marks the genesis of a new era for Israel. It’s one small spacecraft for SpaceIL, and one giant leap for the Jewish people.

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