The managers of Israel’s first mission to the moon say their lunar lander has passed a crucial set of tests in preparation for February’s launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with an assist from a Seattle space company.
SpaceIL’s lander — which has been dubbed Beresheet, the Hebrew word for “In the Beginning” — is scheduled for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida no earlier than Feb. 18.
Mission success would make Israel the fourth nation to execute a soft landing on the moon, following in the footsteps of the United States, Russia and China.
Spaceflight, the launch logistics subsidiary of Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, brokered Beresheet’s inclusion as a secondary payload on a mission that will send Indonesia’s PSN-6 telecommunications satellite, also known as Nusantara Satu, toward geostationary orbit.
SpaceIL gave a nod to Spaceflight today in a tweet reporting the completion of pre-launch tests at SpaceX’s processing facility in Florida:
News! SpaceIL’s CEO Dr. Ido Anteby says, "The #SpaceIL team & @ILAerospaceIAI have successfully completed the testing stage of the #spacecraft for refueling & assembling the launcher…. we are looking forward to the launch & the challenging journey ahead…" 📷@SpaceflightInc pic.twitter.com/PjjWpdRSHh
— SpaceIL (@TeamSpaceIL) January 30, 2019
The flight plan calls for the Beresheet spacecraft, PSN-6 and an undisclosed U.S. government satellite to be sent into geostationary transfer orbit. Beresheet would split off at an altitude of 60,000 kilometers (37,000 miles), while the other two satellites would settle into stable 36,000-kilometer-high (22,000-mile-high) orbits.
Beresheet is designed to execute a series of looping orbits that will put 5.6 million miles on the spacecraft’s odometer over the course of eight weeks, leading to its capture by the moon’s gravitational field.
The dishwasher-sized craft weighs a mere 400 pounds when empty, but it will be carrying twice that weight in fuel for maneuvers leading to a lunar landing in April.
“Our landing site is located somewhere between the landing sites of Apollo 15 and Apollo 17,” Reuters quoted SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby as saying. “It’s a flat area. But still it has small craters and a lot of boulders.”
The lander is carrying a high-resolution video camera system, a magnetometer to map the moon’s magnetic field and a CD-sized “time capsule” that contains digitized files of children’s drawings, photographs and information about Israeli culture.
SpaceIL is a nonprofit organization that was set up to pursue the now-expired Google Lunar X Prize. It’s working on the Beresheet mission in collaboration with state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries.
Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn is SpaceIL’s president and main financial backer, providing $40 million for the project. Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, contributed another $24 million. Other backers of the nearly $100 million effort include philanthropists Lynn Schusterman, Steven and Nancy Grand, Sylvan Adams and Sami Sagol.
Update for 11:30 a.m. PT Jan. 30: So what happens after “In the Beginning”? This week, Israel Aerospace Industries signed a teaming agreement with German satellite manufacturer OHB System AG to provide a commercial lunar delivery service to the European Space Agency.
The Lunar Surface Access Service would handle payloads weighing up to 150 kilograms (330 pounds), using derivatives of the Beresheet lunar lander built for SpaceIL.
OHB has also partnered with Blue Origin, the Kent, Wash.-based space company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, on a future moon mission that would use Blue Origin’s significantly larger Blue Moon lander.
NASA has identified nine other teams as its first commercial partners for robotic lunar deliveries, potentially beginning this year.