This week’s Good News Friday edition is all about Israel reaching for the moon – literally!
Last night, Israel made history as only the 4th country in the world to launch a spacecraft to land on the moon. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though, the craft hasn’t actually reached the moon yet, but so far so good: the launch went off perfectly, the separation of the lander from the Falcon 9 rocket that was carrying it was successful, and for the moment the spacecraft is in its proper orbit on the way to the moon.
The Israeli spacecraft was named Beresheet, which translates so aptly as “In the Beginning” or “Genesis”. I prefer the first option, it sounds both more Biblical and more lyrical, plus I think it’s more suited to the program itself.
The website No Camels has a couple of articles about Beresheet. First, it writes about the chutzpah, dreams and ingenuity behind Beresheet:
The first Israeli spacecraft to be sent to the moon, Beresheet, will be launched in the early hours (Israel time) of February 22, 2019 from Cape Canaveral Kennedy Space Center in Florida, SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced at a press conference in Ramat Gan on Monday. At the event, the representatives detailed the chutzpah, big dreams, and ingenuity behind the project that has the space community in Israel and abroad in a frenzy.
If all goes according to plan, the Israeli spacecraft bearing the national flag will make space history on April 11, 2019, when Beresheet is scheduled to land on the moon.
“Eight years ago, we ventured on this journey that is now nearing completion in about two months when we land on the moon,” said South African-Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn, the president of SpaceIL.
“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,” he added at the press conference.
When Beresheet touches down on the moon, Israel will become only the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the lunar landscape, after the US, the former Soviet Union, and China. And while the other missions cost billions of dollars, the SpaceIL project cost $100 million, mostly privately funded and with minimal input from the state. That figure, says SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby, is “tens of millions of dollars cheaper than other space missions.”
Kahn, who donated $40 million to SpaceIL, hailed the project as “an example of Israeli ingenuity,” and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin declared the mission a national project.
“I am delighted and proud that you decided to turn this project into not just a wonderful technological achievement, but also an educational undertaking. You are an example of groundbreaking, audacious Israeli innovation,” Rivlin said on Sunday when meeting with SpaceIL and IAI representatives.
“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,” said Kahn.
Indeed, the SpaceIL initiative is a proud moment for Israeli space sciences. It also highlights Israel’s trademark of making the seemingly impossible possible.
The unmanned spacecraft, packed with local blue-and-white technologies, is brimming with firsts.
When it launches between Thursday and Friday at around 03:45 a.m. Israel time (East coast time 21/2/19 around 20:45pm), it will mark the first time a spacecraft piggybacks to enter Earth’s orbit as SpaceIL will grab a rideshare on a SpaceX Falcon rocket.
Beresheet is also the first lunar lander that is a private initiative, rather than a governmental project. It is the smallest spacecraft by heft, weighing just 600 kilograms with full fuel tanks and upon landing an approximate 180 kilograms. Its measurements run two meters in diameter and 1.5 meters tall when standing on its four folding legs.
And because of its small size, the spacecraft will log the longest journey – 6.5 million kilometers – as it orbits around Earth until landing on the moon. The craft’s fuel tanks are tiny in order to keep its size compact and thus must use orbits to reach the moon instead of flying in a more direct path.
“How much chutzpah is it to get to the moon? It’s a huge amount of chutzpah whichever way you look at it. I’m not sure chutzpah wouldn’t have been a better name than Beresheet for the spacecraft,” joked Opher Doron, IAI’s Space Division General Manager.
It was the audacity and daring of three young engineers that even made this mission a possibility.
“It feels like a dream, it’s really an exciting moment,” Yonatan Winetraub, a co-founder of SpaceIL, said at the press conference.
Winetraub, together with entrepreneurs Yariv Bash and Kfir Damari came up with the idea to put an Israeli spacecraft on the moon over drinks at a pub in a city on the outskirts of Tel Aviv in 2011. The three enrolled in Google Lunar XPRIZE Challenge, a competition that ended without a winner in March 2018.
When Google announced it was ending its challenge, SpaceIL vowed to continue working on its mission. After all, it was never toward the $20 million purse that the SpaceIL founders geared.
The mission also puts Israeli engineering knowledge and advanced development capabilities in the global spotlight.
“The three founders, their vision, their chutzpah and their audacity gave us, all the engineers and everyone who took part in this project, an amazing present. An amazing engineering adventure,” said Anteby.
“It was very exciting to work with SpaceIL on this project and also interesting from an engineering point of view. This was an inspiration,” Inbal Kneiss, Deputy General Manager, Space Division, IAI, tells NoCamels.
Kol hakavod sounds too banal and too small a congratulation for all these incredibly talented and ingenious developers Yonatan Winetraub, Yariv Bash and Kfir Damari, and the incredibly generous Morris Kahn who donated so much to make this project possible.
And how can we have a moon launch without a bunch of statistics? No Camels provides us with those impressive details too from inside Israel’s Beresheet Spacecraft:
If all goes according to plan, the lunar lander Beresheet, whose name in Hebrew means “In the Beginning/Genesis,” will blast off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 3:45 am Israel time on Friday. [It indeed launched successfully – Ed.]
Beresheet is remarkable because almost everything about the unmanned spacecraft goes against convention.
It began as a dream by three young engineers and not a government program, making it the first privately funded space probe to shoot for the moon. It cost just $100 million to plan and develop, whereas other space missions in the past have run in the billions of dollars.
But as Israel has shown time and again, when it comes to technological prowess, size doesn’t matter.
Indeed, this small spacecraft has big hopes riding on it.
“It was very difficult to raise money for this mission because it was really a mission impossible,” said South African-Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn, the president of SpaceIL. “I didn’t realize it was impossible and the three engineers who started this project didn’t realize it was impossible, and the way we in Israel think, nothing is impossible. We dare to dream. And we really are making this dream come true.”
From a physical design point of view, Beresheet has been likened to a gold-colored robotic spider. It is roughly the size of a washing machine, reaching a height of 1.5 meters, about two meters in width, and weighing just 600 kilograms.
The design of the craft changed twice since its first inception in 2011 until the final touches were made last year.
The SpaceIL spacecraft was originally designed to meet regulations set out by the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize competition, an international contest that challenged the world’s engineers to create and send the first private lander to the Moon. The SpaceIL crew chose to continue with the mission – with or without the prize money – and kept dimensions of their lunar lander to a minimum and with as low redundancy as possible.
A multi-disciplinary team of some 250 engineers, scientists, and computer scientists from the non-profit SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) designed, engineered and developed Beresheet. The actual building of the spacecraft from full-scale development took just four years.
“The navigation control system and the simulator were developed from scratch and they are very sophisticated,” Opher Doron, IAI’s Space Division General Manager, told a prelaunch press conference in Ramat Gan.
Doron tells NoCamels that the “main computer and computer chips, as well as other pieces of technology and the cameras, are Israeli-made.”
One of the main issues facing the SpaceIL and IAI team was how to land the spacecraft on the Moon without it breaking apart. So, they created four foldable landing legs with energy absorption mechanisms to ensure a soft landing.
“The structure is Israeli, the landing legs are Israeli, the main computer is Israeli, the design of the spacecraft is Israeli… most of the technologies onboard and the engineering is Israeli. It is an Israeli mission,” says Ido Anteby, CEO of the SpaceIL. “Of course, there are some parts of the sub-systems that come from vendors around the world. But almost all the technology onboard is Israeli.”
Indeed, Beresheet truly shows off Israel’s prominent technological and engineering innovation and expertise. It highlights the country’s aptitude in creative thinking, resourcefulness, and advance research.
Israel’s tech expertise in space sciences is already world-renowned. The country is known for developing and manufacturing advanced technology solutions for satellites, unmanned and robotic systems, radars and more.
There is an Israeli-developed space-qualified CMOS (complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) sensor aboard the Parker Solar Probe.
The country is a mecca for satellite development.
“Israel is blessed with human capital and brain power. We can create effective solutions that afterward become global standards. We want to change the game of satellites as flash drives did to floppy discs,” Raz Itzhaki Tamir, co-founder & CEO of NSL Comm and an expert on nano space technology, tells NoCamels.
Even NASA has taken interest in this little spacecraft. The space agency is allowing the Israeli team to use its Deep Space Network to communicate with Beresheet in deep space.
The spacecraft is built to withstand extreme environmental conditions during launch, in space, during landing and for its lunar stay. Yet, IAI and SpaceIL engineers noted at the prelaunch press conference that once on the moon, the spacecraft will only function for about two Earth days. In that time, Beresheet will take a selfie, gather imagery of the Moon, and transmit information back to the mission control room in IAI’s space facility in Yehud.
SpaceIL engineers hope the spacecraft will land in an area on the Moon known as Mare Serenitatis because this region is supposed to have some “magnetic anomalies” that the Israeli team hopes to analyze using an onboard magnetometer. SpaceIL is conducting a scientific experiment together with the Weizmann Institute of Science to take measurements of the Moon’s mysterious magnetic field.
On board, there’s also a time capsule and a nano-Bible microscopically etched on a small metal disc the size of a coin.
Landing a spacecraft on the moon will bring an extraordinary achievement in engineering and the country’s technological capabilities. SpaceIL hopes it will advance and promote science and research.
“It’s exciting,” says Doron. “It’s a great technological achievement.”
You can watch the actual launch, which took place at 3.45 this morning Israel time, on this video. To skip the speeches and watch the launch, skip to 16 minutes along:
If you want to watch all the speeches and the exciting build-up in the Israeli control room in Yehud, you can see it all here. The launch itself starts at around 16 minutes:
Once again, a huge kol hakavod to the entire team of SpaceIL, from the three original developers, through the whole research and development team, the IAI, and the philanthropists who made it all happen.
And let us not lose sight of the fact that this wonderful universe, this planet Earth and it’s moon which governs the Jewish calendar, was all created by Hashem, the Master Designer himself.
Now when we look to the heavens as we pray on Shabbat we can see a little piece of Israel flying above us.
Shabbat Shalom everyone!