In a major milestone on the ever growing space exploration voyage, SpaceX has launched a dishwasher sized, Israeli spacecraft, Beresheet- named after the Hebrew word for “the beginning”.
Beresheet-keeping true to its moniker- is expected to be the first Israeli Spacecraft to travel beyond the Earth’s orbit, and also the first privately funded vehicle to land on our closest neighbouring satellite.
Up until now, only governments have had the access to the technology and the funds required to send a mission to the moon, which is what makes this mission a pioneer. The spacecraft was a joint venture between SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries. The latter is Israel’s largest defense and aerospace company. SpaceIL was one of the participants in the Google Lunar X Prize. The ambitious competition sought to offer a total of US$30 million in prizes to the first privately funded teams to land a robot on the Moon that successfully travels more than 500 meters and transmits back high-definition images and videos.
While the prize went unclaimed as none of the missions could be completed in the deadline, even after extensions, a few participants managed to secure contracts, and had expressed an interest to launch their missions in the future.
SpaceIL was one such company. On February 22nd, they launched a small aircraft aboard the Falcon 9 from the aerospace giant, SpaceX. The landing is scheduled to be in mid-April.
ARE WE THERE YET?
The spacecraft is taking a longer, but fuel-efficient route. It will gradually elongate its elliptical orbit until it passes close enough to the moon to be captured by lunar gravity, instead of blasting straight out of the earth’s orbit. Then it will spend a few more days making its orbit around the moon more circular before attempting a landing.
The spacecraft- in addition to pioneering a possibly revolutionary vacation scene-is expected to accomplish (or be instrumental in accomplishing) the following:
- Measure the moon’s magnetic field, so as to discover more about its iron core.
- Precise measurement of the distance between Earth and the moon, using retroflectors- mirrors that reflect light in the same direction as the incoming beam
- Ferry a digital archive of the full version of the Wikipedia in English, which means that “I was on the moon” has been ruled out of possible excuses for not doing your homework.
- Serve as a time capsule, with a lot of digital files, including the Torah-the Israeli flag.
As the Sun gets higher in the moon’s sky, the hotter temperature conditions on the moon’s surface will most likely cause the spacecraft to end its tenure.
UBER POOL TO THE MOON:
Owing to its shoestring budget- and keeping true to a hitchhiking tourist’s characteristics- Beresheet wasn’t the only passenger aboard the Falcon 9. The others included Pasifik Satelit Nusantara, an Indonesian satellite operator that is launching a telecommunications satellite called Nusantara Satu and an experimental satellite for the United States Air Force.
The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket itself has launched and landed twice, once in July 2018 and again in October.
This unique mission could motivate other private companies to take up the initiative to send more missions to the Moon, using significantly lesser funds without compromising on technology. Maybe in the near future, the Moon would become a pit stop on our personal space voyage.