Israeli spacecraft set for trip to the moon
SpaceIL's unmanned probe will blast off before year's end; touchdown scheduled for mid-February 2019, when it will unfurl national flag, conduct experiments.
by Stuart Winer, The Times of Israel
July 10, 2018
An artist's rendering of the SpaceIL lunar spacecraft.
(Screen capture/Google Lunar XPRIZE)
An Israeli unmanned spacecraft will lift off for the moon before the end of the year and land two months later, in mid-February, project managers said at a news conference Tuesday.
If all goes well, the SpaceIL craft will give Israel entry into the exclusive club of just three nations that have so far achieved a controlled landing on the moon’s surface.
The probe will be launched from the US aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, officials said during the media event, held at an Israel Aerospace Industries space technology site in Yehud. It will land on February 13.
The project, begun seven years ago as part of a Google technology contest to land a small probe on the moon, was conducted together with IAI.
“We will put the Israeli flag on the moon,” said Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL.
“As soon as the spacecraft reaches the landing point it will be completely autonomous,” Anteby said. “The motor will brake the craft and it will reach the ground at zero speed for a soft landing.”
“In the first stage the Israeli flag will be put on the moon,” he said. “During the landing the craft will photograph the landing area with stills and video and even record itself.”
Screen capture from video of a press conference displaying
the SpaceIL moon craft, July 10, 2018.
The spacecraft will carry out a Weizmann Institute of Science experiment to measure the moon’s magnetic field, finishing its mission within two days.
SpaceIL’s vehicle is just two meters in diameter and 1.5 meters tall standing on its four legs. It weighs 600 kilograms, making it the smallest craft to touchdown on to the moon.
Israeli billionaire philanthropist Moris Kahn, who donated NIS 100 million to the initiative, said, “We are making history.”
“This is a tremendous project,” Khan said. “When the rocket is launched into space, we will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon.”
“This is national history,” said IAI director Yossi Weiss. “The path to the moon is not easy. It is a very complicated route.”
“The cooperation between SpaceIL and IAI is an example of the amazing abilities that can be reached in civil space activities — activities that combine education, technology, industry, knowledge and a lot of initiative.”
The SpaceIL moon landing craft.
Whereas other previous moonshot spacecraft have taken just days to reach their target, SpaceIL will be fired into an elliptical orbit to gradually bring it closer to the moon, a journey that will take two months but will save on carrying the fuel needed for a quicker passage.
The Falcon 9 launch rocket’s primary load will be a much a larger communications satellite.
SpaceIL began in 2011 when engineers Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub decided to compete in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, an international contest with a $20 million prize for the first privately funded team that puts a small, mobile craft on the moon.
Although the Google contest was eventually scrapped in March 2018 after none of the teams managed to launch their probes before the deadline, the SpaceIL group kept going with its project, gaining funding from various donors including Kahn and the Adelson family.
In total the project has cost some $95 million.
Only three countries have made soft landings of craft on the moon — Russia, the US, and China. The Russians were first in February 1966 with their Luna 9 probe followed by the US in June the same year with Surveyor 1, and then the Chinese with the Chang’e 3 craft in 2013. Other countries have succeeded in crashing scientific probes into the surface.
Only the US has landed people on the moon, with the first human steps on the surface taken by Neil Armstrong on July 21, 1969, when he famously declared, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”