In yet another display of Israeli innovation, an Israeli company has sent the world’s first privately funded mission to the moon, with the unmanned robotic capsule, named Bereshit, due to land on the moon in mid-April 2019.
The capsule, created by the organisation SpaceIL, launched in a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on February 21st. Thousands watched the lift off live on Facebook and YouTube, and those watching in Israel could hear the famous countdown in Hebrew.
Inscribed on the capsule are the words “Am Yisrael Chai” (“The People of Israel Live”), and in addition to a vast amount of scientific equipment, it is also carrying a time capsule carrying digital files including a nano-bible, Israeli national symbols, and children’s drawings.
Yonatan Winetraub, Kfir Damari and Yariv Bash founded SpaceIL. Ahead of the launch, Winetraub spoke about how the three of them first had the idea of a moon mission while drinking in a pub in Holon.
“Three engineers walk into a bar and come out with the design of a spaceship,” said Winetraub. “Sounds like the beginning of a joke, but this is what happened about eight and a half years ago.”
They began full scale development in 2015, originally as part of the Google LunarX Prize competition, and then after the competition was abandoned in March 2018, the company decided to continue anyway.
If the capsule lands successfully it will make Israel the fifth country to plant its flag on the moon, following Russia, USA, India and China. Israel will also hopefully become the fourth country to soft-land on the moon; India’s mission was an impact probe.
The other countries to land on the moon are far larger than Israel, as were the space crafts that they sent. Bereshit weights just 585kg fully fuelled and its dry weight is 160kg. For comparison, the unmanned mission sent by China weighed 1,200kg.
The capsule could not be sent directly to the moon as it was sent on a ride-share. Furthermore, it meant that SpaceIL were unable to choose Bereshit’s orbit and the craft must orbit Earth numerous times before it enters phasing loops around the moon.
According to the head of the SpaceIL engineering group, Yigal Harel, the hardest part will be the lunar capture manoeuvre that is due to take place on April 4th. It requires coordinating the phasing loops with the revolution of the moon so that Bereshit can be captured into the lunar orbit and held there by gravity. In order to land, hopefully on April 11, Bereshit will have to slow down to 0kmh from a massive 6,000kmh.
It is hoped that Bereshit will then work on the moon for four days. It is expected to send back a number of panoramic and ‘selfie’ pictures, as well as videos and scientific measurements, including of the magnetic field of the moon to help determine its origins. Perhaps most importantly, Bereshit will also be planting the Israeli flag on the moon.