With the successful launch from Cape Canaveral before dawn on Friday of the $95 million Beresheet (Genesis) lander, Israel has earned the chance to be only the fourth country in the world – after the US, Russia and China – to land on the moon.
The historic launch from Florida was the result of eight years of efforts by Israeli engineers, philanthropists from around the world and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in a non-governmental initiative. It is hoped that the unmanned craft will place an Israeli flag at the landing site at the north of the moon’s Sea of Tranquility.
The liftoff was quickly declared a success the IAI command center in Yehud that received the first data from Beresheet as the spacecraft prepared to separate from the rocket. At 4:25 a.m., Beresheet separated from the Falcon 9 rocket that launched it into space and carried out preliminary tasks, including the opening of its gold-coated landing legs. The spacecraft will now travel about for seven weeks before reaching the moon on April 11. SpaceIL’s CEO Dr. Ido Anteby predicted that a successful mission “will open new horizons to the moon for commercial opportunities.”
Buzz Aldrin, the second human to walk on the surface of the moon after Neil Armstrong, tweeted his congratulations to the SpaceIL team.
— Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) February 22, 2019
Beresheet, due to reach the moon on April 11 – two days after Israel’s Knesset election – will measure the Moon’s local magnetic field to help understand how it formed. It also brings a digital time capsule containing over 50 million pages of data, including a copy of the Bible, the blue-and-white flag, a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, a full copy of Wikipedia, a recording of Israel’s national anthem (Hatikva) children’s drawings and memories of a Holocaust survivor.
Up it goes! @TeamSpaceIL's 'Beresheet' (Genesis) moon lander was successfully launched into space, beginning its journey to the moon. A historic moment for Israel's space program! 🇮🇱🚀🌕#IsraelToTheMoon pic.twitter.com/qfEnJMWOe0
— Israel ישראל (@Israel) February 22, 2019
The lander is small, about two meters (6.6 feet) in diameter and 1.5 meters high, and it weighs 585 kilos, but most of that is the fuel that propels it into space. It will function only about two days on the moon because it lacks thermal control and is expected to overheat quickly overheat. But that short time will be enough to make history for Israel and its significant technological accomplishment.
Behind the amazing and daring project are Yariv Bash, aformer electronics and computer engineer in the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and today CEO of the Flytrex; Kfir Damari, a doctoral student in biophysics at Stanford University in California who was a satellite systems engineer at IAI.
Called SpaceIL, it received a $27 million donation from Morris Kahn and other contributions from Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Sammy Sagol, Lynn Schusterman, Steven Grand and others.
Last October, SpaceIL and the Israeli Space Agency announced a collaboration with NASA that would enable SpaceIL to improve the ability to track and communicate with the spacecraft before, during and after landing on the moon. Over the years, additional partners have been added from the private sector, government companies and academia; these include various Israel universities, the Israel Space Agency and Israel’s major telecommunications company, Bezeq.
SpaceIL was the only Israeli competitor in the cancelled international competition, the Google Lunar XPRIZE. To win the first prize of $20 million, competitors were supposed to make a soft landing (without crashing) on the moon; travel 500 meters on, above or below the surface of the moon; and send high definition video and pictures back to Earth. In the end, no prize was awarded, but SpaceIL said it is determined to continue its mission and launch the spacecraft, regardless of the international competition.
After the launch, Beresheet will travel at 36,000 kilometers per hour, perform maneuvers to be captured in a lunar orbit and revolve around the moon for two to four weeks. In the right orbit around the landing site, it will decelerate until soft-landing on the lunar surface.
SpaceIL aims to promote in Israel the “Apollo effect,” like that which boosted interest in space among American youth –to encourage the next generation of Israeli children to choose science, engineering, technology and mathematics. Despite its technological excellence, Israel faces a serious lack of scientists and engineers.
But SpaceIL a non-profit organization, is not waiting for the landing to create the impact. To date, SpaceIL has lectured to over 900,000 kids in classrooms all over Israel, and it is developing curriculum, videos and online content to reach many more.
According to SpaceIL activists, “Space and space exploration are the next frontier. The space industry has produced satellite TV, water filters, UV sunglasses and many more inventions. Our success will be a source of pride for Israel, while introducing the world to new and innovative ways to explore outer space. In addition, the space industry has the potential to become a major growth engine for the Israeli economy.”
Watching videoscreens at Yehud during the launch, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Beresheet mission “a big step for Israel, and a big step for Israeli technology.”
Science and Technology Minister Ophir Akunis travelled to Florida to witness the launch from close up. He called the building and launch of the lander “one of the national and historical events in the history of the State of Israel.”
Israel is already a world power in building successful mini-satellites that function from space to benefit humankind. Later this year, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa will launch three nano-satellites of up to eight kilograms each to communicate with one another and spend more than one year in space. They are being installed with measurement equipment, antennas, computer systems, control systems and navigation instruments. The software and algorithms for managing the flight were also developed at the Distributed Space Systems Laboratory at the Technion’s Asher Space Research Institute.
The satellites will receive signals from Earth and calculate the location of the signal source in order to locate and identify people in distress. The main purpose of the project is to prove that it is possible to maintain orbiting satellites in formation for one year at a height of 600 km. above the ground, which has never before been attempted.