SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, is about to launch the first private lunar lander.
Whether the mission of the moon succeeds or not, the effort will have a lasting significance for Israel and the country's nascent space industry. But if everything goes as planned, Israel will become the fourth nation to ever land on the lunar surface. (Japan, India and Europe have planted probes in the lunar surface but have not posed any robot smoothly.)
The $ 100 million mission is led by a non-profit organization called SpaceIL (the "IL" in its name means "Israel"), which designed and built a 1,300 robotic spacecraft books called "Beresheet". It is Hebrew for "early", which is the first sentence of Genesis in the Bible.
Beresheet, which is equipped with cameras, magnetic sensors and transmitters to relay data to and from Earth, is now awaiting launch at the top of a Falcon 9 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The SpaceX rocket is expected to take off Thursday evening at 20:45. IS, except for technical problems and inclement weather. (The US Air Force has predicted a launch probability of 80% starting Wednesday.)
Morris Kahn, entrepreneur and billionaire born in South Africa and resident in Israel, is the main funder of the SpaceIL mission. In an interview with Business Insider, Kahn said he spent about $ 43 million of the $ 100 million spent on developing and launching the SpaceX rocket.
"I wanted to show that Israel – this small country of about 6 or 8 million inhabitants – could do a job that could only be done by three great powers of the world: Russia, China and the United States, "said Kahn. I said. "Could Israel innovate and really achieve this goal with a smaller budget, a smaller country and without a large space industry supporting it?"
This week, the world will know it.
"Without money, you will not go anywhere"
In early 2011, Kahn participated in an international conference on space in Israel, where a presentation of three young engineers – Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub – caught his eye.
"They announced that they were going to participate in a Google Contest." It was an XPrize contest that involved placing a spacecraft on the moon and winning a $ 20 million prize, "Kahn said. "They seemed very proud of themselves and I thought it was pretty good."
This contest called Google Lunar XPRIZE, launched in September 2007. It had tens of millions of dollars in prizes, hoping to induce a private company to land a robot on the moon. Here 2014.
After the presentation of SpaceIL, Kahn – who at the time had a net worth of nearly a billion dollars – asked the group 's leaders if they had money.
"They said:" Silver? Money, what's the point? "I said," Without money, you'll go nowhere, "Kahn said." I'm telling them I said, "Look, come to my office, I'll give you $ 100,000 – no questions asked – and you can start." And that's how I got involved innocently in this great project. "
Kahn said that "the project had really started to bring in money," so he asked for a budget. The team came back with an estimate of $ 8 million for research, development and testing, and about $ 5 million for the launch of a rocket – "not bad money" Kahn said. But he first agreed to pay for the launch of the rocket.
"I do not want to be the richest man in the graveyard, I would like to feel that I have used my money productively," Kahn said. "I would also like to see that I have used it in a way that I appreciate. I appreciate this process."
Over time, organizers of the Google Lunar XPrize have continued to postpone the 2014 contest deadline. But the contest was finally closed in January 2018 without a winner.
Nevertheless, SpaceIL was determined to go ahead and Kahn continued to provide money.
"Slowly, I sucked into this project and I did not know where he was going to lead me," Kahn said. "Today, I know, it took us about $ 100 million – it's a huge amount."
He also helped raise funds from other sources, including about $ 2 million from the Israeli government. Kahn said that it was not easy to raise money, but he appealed to the national pride of the Israelis.
"Putting a spaceship on the moon is a bit of a strange project," Kahn said. "It seems almost impossible, and even if it was feasible, it takes some imagination to actually see why you would do it."
Read more: NASA's first lunar landings for nearly 50 years could take place in 2019. The agency thinks these 9 companies can reach it at the lunar surface.
Yet $ 100 million is a pittance compared to the $ 469 million spent by NASA in the 1960s for seven satellites of the same size, the Lunar Surveyors. Adjusted for inflation, this amount is approximately $ 3.5 billion, or approximately $ 500 million per mission.
How SpaceIL will use SpaceX to land on the moon
The moon is about 239,000 miles from Earth, but the biggest challenge is to mobilize enough energy to get out of the earth's gravity field. For example, sending three Apollo astronauts, a small space capsule, and a two-person ground vehicle required a 36-story Saturn V rocket filled with millions of pounds of fuel.
To achieve a lunar landing with a reduced budget, SpaceIL claims that its robot "will be the smallest spacecraft to land on the moon so far." Beresheet is only 5 feet tall when it is placed in launch position, which makes it relatively easy to handle aboard a rocket. Because the spacecraft was built to be lightweight, it does not have a cooling system and will overheat under the hot sun on the moon after perhaps three days.
The robot also reduces costs by not launching alone. Instead, it will "graft" into space with a much larger payload: an Indonesian telecommunication satellite called "Nusantara Satu" or PSN 6.
On the side of SpaceX, it is planned to launch the two spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket with a booster already used twice. The launch of the refurbished booster for the third time could bring SpaceX millions (or tens of millions) of dollars.
Read more: Elon Musk broke the world record for rocket launchers in 2018. Here are all the historic missions of the year, SpaceX.
SpaceIL refused to share the price actually paid for the launch. However, the price charts of the company in charge of the rocket organization, Spaceflight Industries, suggest that the launch of Beresheet could cost about $ 22.5 million, well below the posted price of $ 62 million. an exclusive race on a Falcon 9.
To reduce the weight and launch price of Beresheet, SpaceIL has also chosen a journey of about 2.5 months, from launch to landing. (In comparison, just four days after the launch, the Apollo astronauts had to land on the moon.)
"Once it is removed from the launch rocket, the spacecraft will begin to orbit the Earth in ever larger elliptical orbits, eventually covering a total distance of 9 million kilometers. [5.6 million miles]SpaceIL said: "This long and complex course was chosen as it will complete the journey to the moon with minimal fuel consumption."
About 75% of Beresheet's mass consists of fuel, which propels it into lunar orbit – a journey that will take about six weeks. Once the gravity of the moon has captured the robot by April 4, its orbit will be reduced over the next week.
A final firing of the Beresheet rocket engine on April 11 will bring it back to the lunar surface in about 15 minutes. The probe will make its lunar landing with the help of a standalone software and a computer as powerful as a smartphone. A set of feet printed in 3D will dampen the last 16 feet of his free fall.
"The sensor will use a variety of sensors to measure its location and height relative to the moon's surface," said SpaceIL. "The ground crew will not be able to intervene during the landing process."
During its descent and after landing, the LG is expected to record videos and panoramic photos while transmitting images to an Israeli Aerospace Industries control room in Yehud.
"It will be possible to operate all the spacecraft systems from this control room," said SpaceIL.
What will the first private lunar lander on the moon
The planned landing site for Beresheet is Mare Serenitatis, or the "sea of serenity", located in the northern hemisphere of the moon. It is a dark lava covered site of an ancient volcanic eruption. The region is also a source of magnetic and gravitational anomalies and, in popular culture, the left side of "man in the moon".
Until it overheats, Beresheet will take measurements of the moon's magnetic field with the help of an instrument provided by the University of California Los Angeles. SpaceIL plans to share the data collected with NASA and other space agencies.
Read more: American flags on the moon disintegrate
Kahn says that the scientific mission is not as important as what the landing of Beresheet would symbolize, true to the meaning of his name.
"Our project will take Israel to the depths of space.I think it's a new frontier and, in fact, what we do – it's the first non-governmental project to go to." the moon, "said Kahn. "I think others will follow us – in fact, I'm sure others will follow us."
NASA's retired astronaut Scott Parazynski also sees the mission as a stepping stone to a broader future for the Israeli space industry.
"Israel is an incredible technological power, and so, I find it extraordinary that now, countries that are not in space – in other words, those who do not have the ability to launch their own astronauts – are now able to launch large loads such as this one, "Parazynski told Business Insider. "Maybe in the near future, they will be able to launch their own astronauts as well."
Kahn said that there was "no guarantee" that the mission would succeed – "It only takes a small problem and we will fly into space and lose control" , he added.
But even if that failed, he thought that the "Apollo effect" of encouraging young Israelis to dream big of their future in the fields of science and engineering was already a success.
"We have attracted more than a million young students and we have excited them about space," Kahn said. "This goal, I think, we have actually already achieved."