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BERESHEET SPACECRAFT – ONE GIANT LEAP FOR ISRAEL

By: Dave Gordon



Israel prides itself as the “Start-up Nation,” known to be on the cusp of technological breakthroughs and firsts. Here’s another first. Israel has literally launched a new initiative: a spacecraft with an Israeli flag, headed to the moon. Given the country’s rapid advancements in science in recent years, it is no surprise that Israel will become the fourth country (behind the U.S., Russia, and China) to successfully send, and land a spacecraft on themoon. Even our detractors have to admit that it is truly impressive for Israel to have joined the ranks of three of the world’s superpowers in accomplishing this feat.

After eight years of development, and hundreds of millions of dollars invested, the space craft dubbed Beresheet will become the world’s first private vehicle to make a lunar landing.

It took flight the last week of February, and is due to touch down April 11, 2019 after traveling 230,000 miles.

What’s on Board?

Launched at Cape Canaveral by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, the craft is said to be no larger than a household dishwasher, and what is most fascinating is the craft’s highly unusual cargo.

One black disk, reportedly sturdy enough to stay intact for a billion years, holds a collection of songs, the text of the Torah, a Holocaust survivor’s testimony, a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, Israel’s nation’s anthem, an archive of Israeli cultural arts, children’s drawings, a blueprint for 5,000 languages with a billion and a half sample translations, and the entire English Wikipedia.

Its payload includes a device from the Weizmann Institute of Science that will gauge magnetic fields, as well as a device from NASA to accurately measure the distance between the earth and the moon.

Community Magazinehas earlier reported on the numerous Jewish astronauts who have been involved in the US space program, in addition to Israel’s own Ilan Ramon, the country’s first space explorer, who perished in the Columbia disaster in 2003.

How the Project Got Off the Ground

This mission was spurred by Israeli entrepreneurs Yonatan Winetraub, Yariv Bash, and Kfir Damari, who conceived idea to send an Israeli craft to the moon. They admit that it took a few late-night beverages at a seaside bar to convince themselves this could be done.

Initially, they set up the corporate entity SpaceIL, with the intention to enter the Google Lunar Xprize, a competition that started in 2007. The contest promised tens of millions of dollars to the winner who could create the infrastructure to send a craft to the moon by 2014. Though no winner was awarded, the team decided to press on with their dream.

Meanwhile, in 2011, the three Israeli entrepreneurs met South African billionaire Morris Kahn at an international space conference in Israel. After their presentation, Kahn reportedly asked the gents if they had funding, and was surprised that the answer was “no.” He initially committed to a $100,000 donation without flinching.

Kahn, who now makes his home in Israel, eventually contributed $43 million of the $100 million needed to develop and produce the craft that would eventually be rocketed to space by SpaceX. Other fundraising efforts of his included a $2 million grant from the Israeli government, as well as bringing in other private donations. According to reports, Kahn has said that Israeli national pride had a lot to do with those eager to offer financial assistance.

The entire project’s budget is said to hover at around
$100 million, a fraction of $469 million NASA spent in the 1960s on seven similarly sized Surveyor moon landers. NASA’s total would be approximately $3.5 billion today, about $500 million per mission, after adjusting for inflation.

Technical Challenges

Even though the craft has a full mass of nearly 1,300 lbs. (900 lbs. of which is fuel) – about a third the weight of the average car – the challenge for a space flight is to launch the craft out of the earth’s gravitational field. That requires the craft to travel 25,000 miles per hour to enterorbit.

To save on fuel, and lessen the energy required to send it through space, SpaceIL was made smaller than any other lunar vehicle launched to date, at about five feet tall and six feet wide. To further cut costs, the craft piggybacked its launch with two other devices: a U.S. Air Force satellite named S5, and an Indonesian communications satellite called “Nusantara Satu,” weighing in at 10,000 lbs.

The one disadvantage to the craft being built that small and that light is that there was no room to place a coolant system, and designers expect the mechanisms to overheat after three days, when the craft is exposed to the high heat of the sun’s rays on the moon.

Until it overheats, Beresheet will take measurements of the moon’s magnetic field, and may try to “hop” to another location using its thrusters. It has already sent back stunning photographs.

Israel’s Fascination with Space

The Beresheet project is only the most recent of Israel’s scientific breakthroughs in the field of space and discovery. The Israel Space Agency (ISA), in its current incarnation, was founded in 1983, but its research hails back to the 1960s. In the late 1980s, the country’s Ofeq satellites gave Israel the distinction of being amongst just seven countries to build, develop, and launch its own objects into space.

(Israeli-made satellites have been able to spot the details of
now-destroyed nuclear facilities in Syria, and explore enemy terrain in Iran. Israel is also developing what is called nanosatellites – satellites the size of a milk carton.)

The ISA says that its missions in space exploration are “… the key to existing in a modern society; essential for developing an economy based on knowledge, and the central attraction for scientific and qualified human resources.”

Their vision is “to preserve and broaden the comparative advantage of Israel, and to place it among the group of leading countries in the space research and exploration area.”

The success of Beresheet also sends a message to Israel’s enemies: If it can achieve such success in space, it can do the same in the military sphere.

Working Together

And while Israel might be in some ways isolated on the world stage, criticized and singled out, many of the global space agencies have collaborated with ISA, with signed cooperative agreements with United States (NASA), France (CNES), Canada (CSA), India (ISRO), Italy (ASI), Germany (DLR), Ukraine (NSAU), Russia (RKA), Netherlands (NIVR), and Brazil (AEB).

Meanwhile, the ISA and the Ministry of Science and Technology created what is now called the National Knowledge Center on Near Earth Objects, based out of Tel Aviv University. The Center was formed to study the solar system’s celestial bodies, not just to map them, but to find any possible threats (asteroids, meteors) that might head towards the earth, and to create ways to stop them to prevent any disasters.

The Israel Cosmic Ray Center, in a similar way, monitors and predicts “dangerous meteorological and space phenomena,” including solar storms that contain high levels of radiation, and shockwaves from far-off stars, that can send magnetic interruptionsto Earth. Such disruptions can wreak havoc on the planet’s electronic systems, satellites, space shuttles, navigational systems, aircraft flights, and even adversely affect the health of astronauts in space.

Given Israel’s scientific know-how, its long list of firsts, and its continued successes in a variety of technological frontiers, it may not be unreasonable to believe that before too long, the second flag to be planted on the moon’s soil will have a Star of David on it!