After the crash-landing of Israel’s first lunar mission, Beresheet, which drew crowds and attention around the world of one small country’s daring mission to dream, scientists and engineers are already working on Israel’s next mission to the Moon.
Lessons learned, new project drafts recently issued at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in December, and a mission more ambitious than ever before – Israel is willing to put all its cards on the table for its next lunar endeavor scheduled for 2024.
“Israel is going back to the Moon,” Kfir Damari, one of the founders of the Israeli space startup SpaceIL declared standing alongside President Reuven Rivlin, Israel Aerospace Industries CEO Boaz Levy and other leading figures in the Israeli space industry on December 9, 2020 - lending hope to a year filled with havoc and pain amid the coronavirus pandemic. By sheer coincidence, that date was the same as back in 2011 when Damari along with SpaceIL co-founders Yonatan Weintraub and Yariv Bash, spoke of how they first wanted to send a spacecraft to the Moon - something that for Israel seemed as only a pipe dream.
After the new drafts were unveiled, The Jerusalem Report sat down with Damari, who spoke of Israel’s next lunar mission’s ambitious plans, the long journey to reach the point of finalizing the idea, and not giving up on your dreams.
As to how the co-founders and others came up with the idea of Beresheet 2, Damari explained that it was a long process. “It took us roughly a year to get to this point where we formulated our plans. Two days after the landing event where Beresheet crash-landed on the Moon, we decided that we must go forward from there,” he said, adding that plans only started to solidify around the beginning of 2020 when the group received a donation from businessman Len Lavantnik to push the idea forward, from the Simon family, as well as winning the Moonshoot award from the XPrize foundation “We had many ideas, but we realized that we didn’t just want to do the same mission, or copy-paste it, we wanted to do something unique. Something impossible. And that’s in SpaceIL’s DNA. We were looking to come up with an idea for a mission that wasn’t ever done before. We even looked at sending a rover to Mars.”
Damari credited Shimon Sarid, CEO at SpaceIL for devising the new idea, who has an extensive background in technical management of flight systems at the Israeli Air Force. Beresheet 2 aims to send two separate landers on two different locations on the Moon, and the spacecraft will also accommodate an orbiter that will continue to rotate the Moon, interact with children, and collect scientific data.
“Originally, we wanted to land four separate landers, but when we started to get down to the nitty-gritty physics, we realized it wasn’t possible, since we wanted the spacecraft to remain the same weight, size, and cost as Beresheet 1,” he said. Beresheet 2 will weigh around 600 kg. (1300 pounds).
Beresheet 1 used half of its fuel to get to the Moon, and the other for its landing sequence, he said, and explained that planning on landing a larger spacecraft will require a lot of fuel, so SpaceIL along with IAI decided instead of landing one big spacecraft, that it would be more energy-efficient to have two small landers.
Each craft will weigh 120 kg (260 pounds). “The real challenge is how we’re going to pack in all the technology needed aboard such a small craft, but it’s doable. We looked back at the previous mission, and now have a better understanding of what to do better this time. We really looked at the entire project, some nine years back, including the entire design process, and listed all the dos and don’ts,” he said.
He said Israel’s plan is to land the other lander on the side of the Moon which is viewable from Earth.
“Another interesting fact is that we are looking for different landing sites for each lander, and it’s possible that one will land on the Far Side of the Moon, something that only China has done so far,” he said.
Beresheet 2 will also accommodate an Israeli flag on its base and a time capsule, similar to the previous version, which contained a miniaturized version of the Bible, the Traveler’s Prayer, a map of the State of Israel, drawings by Israeli school children, a picture of fallen first Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, among other sentimental data.
As this project has even higher aspirations than the first attempt, Israel is looking to solidify agreements with other countries to have them outsource and build some of the technology onboard. One of those countries may be the United Arab Emirates, which Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shai revealed to the Report in December. Currently seven countries are interested in collaborating with Israel on this project, although the exact details are yet to be released.
“This won’t only be a big achievement for Israel, but it will also be a sign of peace around the globe. Making this mission international is something that will unite countries around the world in scientific education.”
Part of that, he relayed, could include collaboration for children from around the world who would be able to communicate with the orbiter as it rotates the Moon, aside from Israeli children. “This mission won’t only focus on Israel like Beresheet 1 did,” he elaborated, and Israel will shine a light onto other nations with its science.
“We’re still working on the basic blueprint of how the entire craft will look,” he said. As to what were his thoughts when Beresheet 1 crashed on the Moon and made a nice-sized crater, he responded, “We made an impact on the Moon. Back then in 2019, sitting there just in front of the control room, I realized we had landed - or hard-landed. Before it was announced, we saw the information come up on our screens from the telemetry. We got there a bit faster than expected,” he quipped. “But if you think about it, we were the first country in history who had the chutzpah to try and land the first time on the Moon without leaving room for failure.”
“The atmosphere in the control room was tense,” he added, “and everyone was waiting for that moment, even people around the world. Many forget that this is a stereotypical landing in space, and that there was a chance it wouldn’t work,” he said. “I had mixed feelings, on one hand we started this entire endeavor in 2010, as three engineers sitting in a bar who even talked about something as ridiculous as sending an Israeli spacecraft to the Moon, and it took us nine years to get there, but there was also relief, that we finally did it.” The impact that the spacecraft made as well, was significant, and it will push Israelis to build future spacecraft and explore the Universe. “We understand that now that back then was only the beginning.”
“We’ve created the Beresheet effect,” he said, during the official announcement, explaining how two million Israeli students watched, learned, and followed the spacecraft’s mission, something that he hopes will inspire the next generation to pursue STEM studies.
As for the name of the second spacecraft, many have speculated what it will be coined, but it’s safe to say that Beresheet 2 fits. “It’s such an amazing name and very fitting, since Beresheet will be the first of many missions, and certainly not the last” he said, adding that SpaceIL conducted an online survey and the name received thousands of votes.
Regarding philanthropist Morris Kahn, the SpaceIL chairman who donated almost $50 million to Beresheet, it is unclear whether he will give to this venture as well. “Morris is and always will be a part of SpaceIL and Beresheet,” Damari said. “He’s a good friend.”
The group decided to present a new idea to convince donors to contribute. The Beresheet 2 project, like its predecessor, is expected to cost some $100 million.
“From an engineering perspective, we’ll have three separate scientific payloads, and although we haven’t finalized the details yet, it is quite complicated,” he said. “We want to inspire the next generation of boys and girls to be engineers and scientists, and show them just how exciting science can be.”
When asked whether there will be future lunar missions, since a decade ago that didn’t seem like a viable possibility, he remained optimistic. “The short answer is yes, but the long answer relates to the impact on the scientific industry, we want to have a big impact on the space industry and inspire a lot of entrepreneurs. In the future, we hope to see more Israeli startups in the space tech sector, and push Israel more toward civilian space,” he said.
Asked whether the excitement is the same, he related that he was different, since him and his co-founders have gone on to found other companies. “Back then, I was ten years younger, and I wasn’t married,” he said. “Now I have a family, we all do. We’ve sort of grown up since then, changed our perspectives. But we’ll get to the Moon.”■