The first privately funded mission to the moon will center on SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft, which is Hebrew for “In the beginning.” After its lunar landing, Beresheet will also be the first spacecraft to “hop” on its rocket engine to a secondary landing spot.
Israel’s SpaceIL can be traced back to 2011 as one of the competitors in the Google Lunar XPrize program. The $30-million competition called upon privately funded teams to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon’s surface, travel 500 m, and finally transmit HD video and images back to Earth. In 2018, the program ended without a winner, but SpaceIL’s ambitions were not deterred.
Now, SpaceIL’s spacecraft is ready to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
According to The Conversation, the 350-lb Beresheet lander is roughly the size and shape of your average dinner table at 4 ft tall and 6 ft in diameter. Adding to its weight, the spacecraft will need an additional 1,000 lb of fuel to complete its journey.
Beresheet will bring along magnetic field measurement equipment, a time capsule of Israeli artifacts, and a NASA-provided laser reflector, reports The Conversation.
When it’s time for launch, the lander will be riding aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as secondary payload. The main piece of cargo will be a communications satellite that will be put into an Earth-centered, geostationary orbit 22,000 mi above Earth’s equator. But, in order for the Beresheet spacecraft to reach the moon, it will need to travel 10 times further.
Never fear, the minds behind the launch have Beresheet’s lunar path all figured out. “In spaceflight, the primary constraint in traveling from place to place is not distance, but the quantity of energy required. The Falcon 9 rocket only carries Beresheet about 10 percent of the total distance to the moon. But it provides nearly 90 percent of the total energy required to get there,” according to The Conversation.
So, after hitching a ride on the SpaceX rocket, and a little push from its own propulsion system, the spacecraft can position itself in a way to be captured by the gravitational pull of the moon. Thus, its few-week-long journey to the moon will be, hopefully, a success.
As this is a demonstration for privately funded spacecraft landing beyond Earth, the mission will be short lived, only lasting a few days on the moon’s surface.