Israel’s First Lunar Mission Set to Launch This Week

SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries announced that the Beresheet lander will launch from Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday evening local time. The spacecraft’s journey will last about two months until the scheduled landing on April 11, 2019

Photo: IAI

The SpaceIL and IAI partnership announced on Monday that the launch of the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet (Hebrew for Genesis) will take place on Thursday, February 21, 2019, at about 20:45 East Coast Time (03:45 am Israel time, overnight Friday).

Beresheet will be launched aboard the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. About 32 minutes later, the spacecraft will separate from the launcher. A few minutes after this critical point, IAI expects to receive preliminary indications from the spacecraft to the control room located in Yehud, Israel. A few minutes later, the spacecraft's landing legs will open and a series of tests of all the spacecraft's systems will begin to ensure they have successfully survived the launch and are working well in space.

The spacecraft will orbit the Earth in elliptical orbits and will travel 6.5 million kilometers – the longest distance ever traveled to the moon. During these orbits, the spacecraft will raise its orbit around Earth until it reaches the proximity of the moon. When the spacecraft is in lunar orbit, about ten days before landing, it will orbit it until the appropriate time and an autonomous landing process will begin. The route will take about two months until the expected landing on April 11, 2019.

The planning and development process of the spacecraft included intensive work by dozens of engineers, scientists, and staff. The development by SpaceIL and IAI started in 2015 and lasted until 2018. The spacecraft, which weighs only 600 kilograms, is considered the smallest to land on the moon. The height of Beresheet is 1.5 meters, it is about two meters wide and it carries fuel which is approximately 75 percent of its weight. Its maximum speed will reach 10 km per second (36,000 km/h).

Measuring the Moon's Magnetic Field

Once landed on the moon, the spacecraft carrying the Israeli flag will begin taking photographs of the landing site and a “selfie” to prove it has indeed landed on the moon. The spacecraft has an important scientific mission to complete: measure the moon’s magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute.

NASA is also participating in the mission under an agreement entered with Israel Space Agency. NASA has installed a laser retroreflector on the spacecraft and will assist in communicating the spacecraft on the moon.

The spacecraft also carries a "time capsule" – a huge database of hundreds of digital files ranging from details about SpaceIL, the spacecraft and the crew of the project, national symbols, cultural items and materials collected from the general public over the years to be placed on the moon by the spacecraft. Since the spacecraft is not expected to return to Earth, the information it carries is destined to remain on the moon for an indefinite period and may be found and distributed by future generations.

The Beresheet project is based on a private initiative conceived about eight years ago by the three founders of SpaceIL, with two main goals: to land an Israeli spacecraft on the moon and to inspire the younger generation to study science and technology.

In hope to fulfill their dream, the young entrepreneurs Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yehonatan Weintraub enrolled in Google Lunar XPRIZE Challenge. The competition ended without a winner in March 2018, but SpaceIL announced it would continue working on its mission.

The First Privately-Funded Moon Mission

Since the establishment of SpaceIL, the task of landing an Israeli spacecraft on the moon has become a national project, but funded by donors, headed by Morris Kahn. This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. Until now, the superpowers that managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding.

IAI has been a full partner in the project since its inception. Over the years, additional partners have been added from the private sector, government, and academia. The most prominent of them are the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Israeli Space Agency, the Ministry of Science and Technology, Bezeq and others. Among the main contributors to the project are Miri and Sheldon Adelson, Sammy Sagol, Lynn Schusterman, Sylvan Adams, Stephen Grand, and others. Philanthropist and businessman Morris Kahn took the lead in completing the mission in funding $40 million of the project and in his role as president of SpaceIL.

“Eight years ago we ventured on this journey that is now nearing completion in about two months when we land on the moon,” said Kahn. “We are making history and are proud to be part of a group that dreamed and realized the vision that many countries in the world share, but so far only three have realized. Yesterday (17.2) we presented the Beresheet project as a gift to the President of Israel, where it was declared a national project. I couldn't be prouder than to give this gift to the people of Israel and make it part of the Israeli ethos of technology, daring and a generous dose of nerve.”

Ido Antebi, CEO of the SpaceIL NGO: “Our journey to the moon is full of challenges, which makes our task extremely complex. Every step we take successfully outlines the way to the next successful one until the landing on the moon. 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, whose success will make Israel an extremely proud nation.”

IAI CEO Nimrod Sheffer said “The cooperation with SpaceIL is an example of the amazing achievements that can be attained by the State of Israel and a symbol for the path Israel has walked since its establishment. Most importantly, it illustrates the loftier achievements that can still be achieved – the know-how, the capabilities and the human capital are all here. The journey to the moon is fraught with challenges, but thanks to the professionalism, determination and faith of all the partners in the project, an Israeli spacecraft will be launched to the moon in the coming days. IAI together with our partners at SpaceIL will continue to do everything necessary to ensure the success of this mission.”