“ We hoped that our spaceship would land softly on the Moon in one piece. Although it didn’t happen, we consider our mission as a big success”. That is how Yonatan Winetraub, cofounder at SpaceIL and Ph.D. Biophysics candidate at Stanford, uses the power of humor to balance the disappointment of Bresheet’s failed moon landing with all the excitement that accompanied this complex spacecraft which reached a few meters away from the completion of its final mission.
The construction of Beresheet, which means Genesis in Hebrew, started in 2011 with the establishment of SpaceIL, a non-profit organization aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon. Three young engineers, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub formed the organization who answered the international challenge presented by Google Lunar XPRIZΕ. In October 2015, SpaceIL reached a project milestone by becoming the first team to announce a signed launch contract. In January 2017, SpaceIL became one of the competition’s five finalists.
The competition officially ended with no winners on March 31, 2018, after Google ended its sponsorship, but this new development didn’t set an obstacle for SpaceIL as the initial prize announced was only a part of the whole investment needed to fulfill the mission. In the first place, the goal of the venture was not to cover the investment but to gain useful experience. According to Yonatan Winetraub, this project helped young people work up an appetite for space exploration and gave them a dream other than social media popularity. He further explains that there were a lot of young people staying awake up to three o’ clock in the morning anxious about the outcome of the mission or many others that contacted SpaceIL to ask for answers to their questions or even give some suggestions.
That is not the only benefit of a space mission that cost less than $200 million when the typical cost for such a mission, like the one made by China last January, is quadruple. Yonatan Winetraub continues “ To make the project feasible, we decided to buy some low-cost parts related to their specialized equivalents. We made this choice because we were ready to accept the risk of possible failure. Also, we used the Falcon 9 rocket, as an affordable solution and we tried hard to reduce the weight of our spacecraft, as it is well known that it costs a lot to carry heavy material to space.” The use of these materials together with the creation of new software from scratch, about which Yonatan Winetraub does not reveal much, brought Beresheet just a few meters away from the Moon where it appears that a manual command entered into the spacecraft’s computer. The latter led to a chain reaction in the spacecraft, during which the main engine switched off and prevented it from activating further.
Before crashing, it managed to make some measurements of the local gravity field around its landing site. The data collected will be possibly analyzed together with the new data from the next mission of Beresheet 2.0, which is underway. Israel and SpaceIL aren’t throwing in the towel yet. Just a few days after the failed attempt, Morris Kahn, a billionaire businessman, philanthropist and SpaceIL president, confirmed that the SpaceIL team had already scheduled meetings to begin planning the Beresheet 2.0 mission. Kahn announced in a video statement posted on Twitter by SpaceIL “We’re going to build a new spacecraft. We’re going to put it on the moon, and we’re going to complete the mission.”