So far, there’s only been three countries to send spacecraft to the moon: the United States, home of the Whopper™, the Soviet Union (now re-branded as Russia), and China, maker of all the crap you own. It’s possible that very soon another country will be added to this select group: Israel. Notably, Israel’s lunar lander will also be the only one to be funded by private enterprise as opposed to being a governmental project. Neat!
The lander is called Beresheet (בְּרֵאשִׁית, which means “in the beginning”) and is scheduled to launch tonight at 8:45 p.m. EST on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The lander is just one of three payloads on the rocket, which also includes an Indonesian telecommunications satellite.
The nearly 1,300 pound lander will be launched into a series of elliptical orbits that will gradually be raised with thrusts from Beresheet’s engine, a process taking about 2 and a half months until the spacecraft is close enough to be captured into the moon’s orbit.
You can see the general process in this video:
...and here’s a timeline of when the lander is expected to reach certain orbital milestones:
The lander is a joint project between the nonprofit Israeli space agency SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel’s largest defense and aerospace company. The majority of the funding is said to come from Morris Kahn, the Israeli billionaire who is president of SpaceIL.
SpaceIL was one of the original participants in the Google Lunar X Prize, which was a challenge for private organizations to land a robot on the moon, and have it travel at least 1,650 feet while there, sending pictures and data back to Earth.
So far, five private companies have launch contracts to send their robots to the moon; if all goes according to plan, Beresheet will be the first to actually make it.
Beresheet will also be carrying a magnetometer from the Weizmann Institute of Science and a laser retroreflector array, similar to the ones left on the moon by the Apollo missions, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
More unusually, the lander will also have a “time capsule,” which is described as
“It consists of three discs, each containing hundreds of digital files, including national symbols, like Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Bible, Israel’s national anthem and the Israeli flag. It will also contain cultural objects such as paintings, collected over many years from the public for sending to the moon; dictionaries in 27 languages and encyclopedias, such as Wikipedia, to reflect knowledge accumulated by all of humanity thus far, Israeli songs, the “Wayfarer’s Prayer” and photographs of Israeli landscapes.”
The lander doesn’t really have a thermal management system, so it’s only expected to be operational for “a few days” before it overheats.
Still, I’m sure those will be an exciting couple of days.