The first private mission on the moon could be launched Thursday evening


An artistic concept of the lunar ship Space IL on the surface of the Moon.
Enlarge / An artistic concept of the lunar ship Space IL on the surface of the Moon.


SpaceX is due to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday night, and although it may not be the main payload, a small Israeli lunar ship is by far the most useful of the mission. intriguing payload.

The 180-kilogram Beresheet satellite, developed privately by SpaceIL in Israel and largely funded by philanthropy, will spend more than six weeks climbing into orbit and being caught in lunar orbit, before finally attempting its first private attempt. 39, landing on the moon. Until now, only American, Russian and Chinese space agencies have already successfully landed on the moon.

This means that there is a lot of pressure on the small Israeli team leading the mission, both in their home country and within the commercial lunar community, which wants to prove that private companies can do what only nations have done before. "What this means for me is that the responsibility is very big, "said Yoav Landsman, Senior Systems Engineer for the project.

The first step in the space could be held Thursday night with the launch of a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida. The main mission launch window opens at 8:45 pm (ET) (Friday at 01:45 UTC) for a flight from Space Launch Complex-40 to Cape Canaveral Air Base. The main payload is a geostationary communication satellite, the PSN-VI. The weather is optimistic.

Along the road

SpaceIL, an Israeli company, was formed one day before the 2011 deadline to participate in Google's Lunar XPrize contest and land a rover on the moon. At first the project was mainly run by volunteers, but in 2013, the team realized that if she really wanted to reach the moon, she needed the help of a professional.

SpaceIL has started collecting tens of millions of dollars from philanthropists such as Morris Kahn. Landsman was among the recruiters who joined the group. He did not resist the opportunity to be part of a small team to land on the moon.

The challenges were immense. They could not afford to buy their own rocket launcher. SpaceIL had to share a carpooling mission (they moved to SpaceX in 2016). For this reason, and because of financial constraints, their spacecraft had to be small, with a limited amount of fuel. The Falcon 9 rocket would drop the Beresheet probe into an elliptical orbit with an apogee of about 60,000 km. From there, they should go to the moon on their own.

SpaceIL has released a video, covered with screens above with Landsman's notes, that explains their journey to the lunar surface since launching Feb. 22 through a scheduled landing on April 11 in the Sea of ​​Serenity .

On the moon

The engineers designed the spacecraft to meet the requirements of the Lunar XPrize, which ended last March without a winner. The competition required a privately funded robot to land on the moon, travel more than 500 meters and return high-definition images and videos to Earth.

The Beresheet vehicle will attempt this feat as part of a limited lifetime on the Moon. After about three days, Landsman said the solar panels in the vehicle should reach a temperature of 200 ° C and overheat. It was one of the compromises of developing a smaller LG with a tight budget.

Beresheet will therefore land urgently, take pictures and videos, retransmit them, then try to jump 500 meters to another site. When Beresheet does not take video or move, it attempts to send data back to Earth via NASA's Deep Space Network. "WWe have to hurry up and start downloading the data immediately after landing, to put everything back on Earth, "Landsman said.If the solar panels last longer, the team will be able to render images of better definition.

This landing attempt comes as NASA has asked several US companies, some of which are also participating in Lunar XPrize, to develop the capacity of the small landing gear to conduct scientific experiments on the Moon. Earlier this month, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's chief scientist, said he would like at least one of these missions to take place by the end of the year. year, but it is still unclear whether one or the other of the US companies will be able to do it.

They will all certainly follow SpaceIL's attempt to make the first private landing. "TPeople who were competing with us until recently came to see me and told me that they were trying to support us, Landsman said. If we succeed in our mission and show the world that we can land on the moon with a funded spacecraft, that means the technology is already there. "


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