Raumfahrt - Israeli spacecraft world’s first commercial Moon mission -Update-1


How Israel’s Moon Lander Got to the Launchpad

With $100 million and a lot of volunteer labor, SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft could be the first privately built vessel to reach the lunar surface.


SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft, with technicians and the company's C.E.O., Ido Anteby, second left, in December.CreditCreditAriel Schalit/Associated Press

It started in 2010 with a Facebook post.

“Who wants to go to the moon?” wrote Yariv Bash, a computer engineer.

A couple of friends, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub responded, and the three met at a bar in Holon, a city south of Tel Aviv. At 30, Mr. Bash was the oldest.

“As the alcohol levels in our blood increased, we became more determined,” Mr. Winetraub recalled.

They formed a nonprofit, SpaceIL, to undertake the task. More than eight years later, the product of their dreams, a small spacecraft called Beresheet, blasted off on Thursday night atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

If the mission succeeds, it will be the first time that a private company has gone to the moon. It will also be a point of pride for Israel. Until now, only governmental space agencies of three superpower nations — the United States, the former Soviet Union and China — have accomplished an intact landing on the lunar surface.

The original goal was to compete in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which was offering a $20 million grand prize for the first privately financed venture to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon. The founders initially envisioned a tiny lander that would weigh only a dozen pounds, cost just $10 million and make the trip by the end of 2012.

The challenge turned out to be much harder and much more expensive.

“We didn’t imagine, I think, how much time and effort it would take,” Mr. Damari said.


Yariv Bash, a co-founder of SpaceIL, which from its outset had an educational mission to inspire Israeli students to take an interest in space and engineering.CreditCorinna Kern for The New York Times

After several extensions, the deadline for the Google Lunar X Prize passed a year ago without a winner. Even without the $20 million prize, SpaceIL persisted. Unlike many of the other competing teams that wanted to build profitable businesses, SpaceIL had given itself a mission, to inspire students in Israel to take an interest in science and engineering.

“This is our bigger vision,” Mr. Damari said. SpaceIL would build the first Israeli spaceship to travel far from Earth, but for today’s students, “It's their job to build the next one,” he said.

As part of SpaceIL’s parsimonious approach, Beresheet, which means “Genesis” or “in the beginning” in Hebrew, tagged along aboard the SpaceX rocket with an Indonesian communications satellite as well as a small experimental satellite for the United States Air Force.

Beresheet will not take the quick, direct path to the moon. That would require a fuel-guzzling firing of a large engine to break out of Earth orbit and then another to slow down at the moon. Instead, with several engine firings, the spacecraft will slowly adjust its orbit, stretching to the outermost point until the moon’s gravity pulls it into lunar orbit.

That is a long and winding, four million mile-long journey to reach a destination that is a quarter million miles away.

In April, it is to land at a lava plain named Mare Serenitatis, or the Sea of Serenity. An instrument built by the Weizmann Institute of Science will measure the moon’s magnetic fields as it approaches, and that data could help give clear hints about the moon’s iron core.

Beresheet is also carrying a durable backup of humanity’s knowledge in the form of a disc provided by the Arch Mission Foundation, containing 30 million pages of information, as well as a time capsulewith Israeli cultural symbols and a Bible.

Within a few days of its landing, Beresheet is expected to succumb to the heat of lunar noon. Then, its mission will end.

The price tag to build and launch Beresheet ended up at $100 million, not $10 million, and the spacecraft bulked up to 1,300 pounds including fuel. The SpaceIL founders point out that this is still much cheaper and smaller than what a space agency like NASA would build.


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