Israel′s first moon mission lifts off after SpaceX launch | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 22.02.2019
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Race for the Moon

Israel's first moon mission lifts off after SpaceX launch

An Israeli rocket has taken off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, on course for a lunar landing that would make history for both the Jewish state and commercial space travel.

USA, Cape Canaveral: Launch of Falcon-9 Rocket with Israeli moon lander Beresheet on bord (picture-alliance/dpa/T. Renna)

In the night from Thursday to Friday, the Falcon-9 Rocket with Beresheet took off from Cape Canaveral

Behold "Beresheet" — the lander that took off from Cape Canaveral on board a Space-X Falcon 9 rocket on Friday. Its name refers to the first week of the Torah and translates to "The Beginning."

The naming is apt as the project represents a new beginning – in two respects. It will not only be Israel's first moon landing, but it is also the first entirely privately initiated and financed moon mission ever.

A communications satellite for Indonesia was the main cargo as Israel seeks to become only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon.

Opher Doron, general manager of Israel Aerospace Industry's space division, presents the SpaceIL lunar Modul Beresheet to the public (picture-alliance/AP Photo/I. B. Zion)

The SpaceIL lunar modul Beresheet was presented to the public in July 2018

It all began with a competition

The idea behind Beresheet was first sparked by a competition: the Google Lunar X Prize, launched in 2007. Google's call out was directed exclusively at private competitors to design a landing robot for the moon by the end of March 2018. It should be able to travel 500 meters (1640 feet) on the moon and send high-resolution video images back to Earth.

Read more: Super blood wolf moon wows stargazers

Although none of the 34 teams won the prize (because Google didn't trust anyone to build the robot in the given time) the Israeli applicant, SpaceIL, was not deterred. Now, years later, their spacecraft is ready for launch.

SpaceIL is a non-profit organization that promotes educational programs in research and technology. It is financed by donations from individual private sponsors, but also cooperates with the Israeli Space Agency (ISA). 

Read more: What you can see in space in 2019

At the occasion of the Lunar X Google competition, two engineers present Israeli President Shimon Perez with a ticket to the Moon in 2011 (imago stock&people)

SpaceIL presented a ticket to the Moon to President Shimon Perez in 2011

A jumping robot

The Space IL team, founded by engineers Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, has designed a very unusual method of locomotion for their lander: to travel the required 500 meters, Beresheet simply jumps with the help of a small rocket engine.

Given the low gravitational pull on the moon, jumping probably won't be too much of a challenge. And SpaceIL undoubtedly has the ability to transmit high-resolution videos and images.

But the builders of Beresheet have also included something special in their design: a time capsule. 

Read more: China lands Chang'e-4 probe on 'dark' side of moon

A piece of Israel on the moon

The time capsule contains three digital storage discs with hundreds of files. Israel's Declaration of Independence, its national anthem, Hebrew songs, the Traveler's Prayer, are all included, as well as drawings by children.

The probe will also be scientifically integrated into existing research projects. For example, Beresheet has a magnetometer on board which will transmit data to the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Above all, however, SpaceIL is about getting young people excited about space exploration, technology and engineering.

This is one of the reasons why the lighthouse project is taking place in time for the anniversary of the first moon landing. July 21st marks the 50th anniversary of NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong first setting foot on the moon.

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