Israel Set to Launch A Privately Funded Spacecraft to the Moon

Israel is all set to become the fourth country in history to launch a spacecraft to the moon. The unmanned spacecraft Beresheet is slated to be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The craft is named Beresheet in reference to the first words in the Jewish Bible: In the beginning.

In 1959 and 1962, Russia’s Luna 2 and The United States’ Ranger 4 landed on the moon. Albeit, it was a ‘hard landing’. Both spacecraft crashed into the moon. It took nearly 50 years for China’s Chang’e 3 to launch an unmanned spacecraft and perfected a soft moon landing.   

If everything goes according to plan, the Beresheet spacecraft will be the smallest and least expensive spacecraft to land on the moon. It would also be the first privately funded craft to make a controlled landing on the moon.

Weighing 1,300 pounds and standing 5 feet tall, the spacecraft is a joint venture between Israel Aerospace Industries and SpaceIL.

The project is funded from private donations from Jewish billionaires, including South African billionaires: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, Lynn Schusterman, Morris Kahn, and many others.

The estimated cost of funding the craft was $100 million, with a couple of other donations invested in the US Space Program.

Founded 8 years ago, SpaceIL participated in the Google Lunar X Prize, an international competition where participants were offered a chance to win $30 million by launching a spacecraft to the moon, move 500 meters in any direction and transmit live lunar surface high-definition visuals. 

The competition was canceled in March last year when none of the teams shortlisted were able to beat the deadline for the moon launch. But the team behind SpaceIL persisted even without the prize money, and instead turned to donors for help.

Beresheet is slated to lift off from Cape Canaveral on Thursday by 8:45 pm EST (Friday 3:45 am IST) on one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX commercial launcher.

It is expected to detach from Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket after 30 minutes airborne, and then circle the earth six or seven times before making the jump to the moon’s orbit. It is an estimated 7-week journey to the moon.

The spacecraft is already prepped to measure magnetic fields on the moon. The data will be transferred to the Weizmann Institute to help scientists ascertain how the formation of the moon came to be. It is expected that Beresheet will send the data two or three days before the rays of the sun melts its communication system.

The team behind the launch has collaborated with the Education Ministry to rollout out initiatives to help students follow the spacecraft’s lunar journey. The initiative also includes the provision of a free smartphone app and special kits to Israeli teachers. 

Beresheet will be carrying a Hebrew Bible inscribed with nanotech on a metal circle the size of a coin, and children’s drawings of space and the moon.

It will also be conveying the memoirs of a Holocaust survivor, The Traveler’s Prayer, a time capsule containing Israel’s Declaration of Independence and National Anthem, and a note from the late former President Shimon Peres.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will be hosting a pajama party with students on Thursday night to watch the launch at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.