Beresheet on the way to the Moon

Beresheet, an Israeli probe carried by a Falcon 9 rocket of the private company SpaceX, left Earth Thursday night at 20:45 local time towards the Moon (which it must reach in seven weeks). The 585-kilograms space object, which looks like a cauldron on trestles, will, with the help of its engine, take several elliptical orbits (which will be used as an impetus) around the Earth, to take in a second time the direction of the Moon.

The Moon landing is scheduled, after traveling six and a half million kilometres at a maximum speed of ten kilometres per second, for April 11, 2019. The Falcon 9 rocket also carried an Indonesian satellite and a U.S. Air Force satellite. “For the future of our children and the State of Israel, and because we believe that anything is possible, wish good luck with us to Beresheet which goes to the Moon” said SpaceIL employees on Thursday.

The Israel Space Agency

The Israel Space Agency (ISA) or סוכנות החלל הישראלית, is a governmental body, a part of Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology, which coordinates all Israeli outer space research programs with scientific and commercial goals. The agency was founded by the Israeli theoretical physicist Yuval Ne’eman (May 14, 1925 – April 26, 2006) in 1983 to replace the National Committee for Space Research (NCSR) which was established in 1960 to set up the infrastructure required for outer space missions. Today, Israel is the smallest country with indigenous launch capabilities.

Beresheet

Will Israel be the fourth country to join the Moon after the United States of America, Russia and China? Nothing is done yet, but the deal seems pretty good. It is already a small victory: Thursday, February 21 in Cape Canaveral (Florida), a rocket Falcon 9 of the private company SpaceX took off with on board an Israeli probe. A few tens of minutes later, the thrower released the probe Beresheet (which means in Hebrew “At the beginning” – בראשית, first word of the Torah) which began a seven-week trip to the Moon. Once arrived at the destination, the craft will seek to land on our natural satellite, and would then make Israel the fourth nation to have achieved a Moon landing. This performance is all the more remarkable as it is a private initiative led by the non-profit organization SpaceIL with the support of the businessman Morris Kahn, a South African-born Israeli billionaire entrepreneur. Half an hour after the launch, more than seven hundred and fifty kilometres above Africa and at a speed of thirty-five thousand kilometres per hour, the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket deployed Beresheet.

The launch was followed live from Israel, in the middle of the night, by many engineers and supporters of the mission, and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who waved Israeli flags from the control centre of Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel’s prime aerospace and aviation manufacturer, producing aerial and astronautic systems for both military and civilian usage. The main mission of Beresheet is indeed to Moon land; the probe, which carries children’s drawings, songs and images as well as memories of a Holocaust survivor and even a Bible, is not planned to work more than a few days on our natural satellite. The capsule will be left on the Moon as a testimony for future generations. “We are entering history and are proud to belong to a group that has dreamed and fulfilled the vision shared by many countries in the world but so far only three of them have accomplished”, said the president of SpaceIL. So far, only Russia, the United States of America and China have sent space objects on the Moon. Only twelve American astronauts have walked on the lunar ground between 1969 and 1972.

The country had already launched satellites before, but Beresheet is Israel’s first long-range spacecraft. This mission costed only one hundred million dollars, very little for this type of experience: “it is the cheapest gear to attempt such a mission”. International partners also took part in the project: a Swedish company for managing communications with Beresheet, and even NASA, which equipped the probe with a laser retroreflector to conduct space navigation tests. In a little less than two months, Beresheet should Moon land.

The renewed interest in the Moon, sometimes called the “eighth continent” of the Earth, is global and the year 2019 promises to be particularly busy. India hopes to become the fifth lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission, which will include a mobile robot. Japan also plans to send a small lunar lander to study a volcanic area, called SLIM, short for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, a candidate for the SPRINT-C (Small scientific satellite Platform for Rapid INvestigation and Test-C) mission. The lander would be one hundred and twenty kilograms and is proposed to be launched on an Epsilon advanced rocket from the Kagoshima Prefecture in late 2019.

As for the Americans, the return to the Moon is now the official policy of NASA, according to the guidelines of President Donald Trump in 2017. “This time, when we go back to the Moon, we will stay there” recently said NASA boss Jim Bridenstine. To achieve this, the U.S. Space Agency is changing its model and no longer wants to design the missions itself. NASA wants to work with private companies and has put financial incentives on the table to reward the companies that will be ready the fastest.

SpaceIL and Beresheet

SpaceIL is a non-profit organisation established in 2011 aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon. The organization was founded by three young engineers: Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub who answered the international challenge presented by Google Lunar XPRIZE: to build, launch and land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon. SpaceIL was the only Israeli representative. In October 2015, SpaceIL reached a dramatic project milestone by becoming the first team to announce a signed launch contract, an actual “ticket to the Moon”. In January 2017, SpaceIL became one of the competition’s five finalists. The competition officially ended with no winners in March 31, 2018, after Google ended their sponsorship. Regardless of the competition, SpaceIL was committed to continue and complete its mission, to land on the Moon and to the advancement of science and technology education in Israel. Working to create an Israeli “Apollo Effect”, SpaceIL is committed to inspiring the next generation in Israel and around the world to choose to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Falcon 9

Falcon 9 is a two-stage-to-orbit medium lift launch vehicle designed and manufactured by SpaceX in the United States of America. It is powered by Merlin engines, also developed by SpaceX, burning liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellants. It was named after the Millennium Falcon and the nine engines of the rocket’s first stage. Unlike most rockets, which are expendable launch systems, Falcon 9 is partially reusable, with the first stage capable of re-entering the atmosphere and landing back vertically after separating from the second stage. This feat was achieved for the first time on flight 20 with the v1.2 version in December 2015.

Falcon 9 can lift payloads of up to twenty-three thousand kilograms to low Earth orbit, eight thousand kilograms to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) when expended, and five thousand kilograms to GTO when the first stage is recovered. In 2008, SpaceX won a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract in NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) using the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule. The first mission under this contract was launched in October 2012. SpaceX intends to certify the Falcon 9 to be human-rated for transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS as part of the Commercial Crew Development program.