Israel moon mission gets underway

London, Feb 22 (Agencies): | Publish Date: 2/23/2019 12:00:00 AM IST

The first privately financed mission to the Moon has lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The Israeli robot was put on a path to the lunar body by a Falcon rocket - a trip that will take two months.

Beresheet, as it’s known, will try to land on the lunar surface, take some pictures and conduct some experiments.

That’s a challenging prospect. Only government space agencies from the US, Russia and China have previously managed soft touchdowns.

SpaceIL, the non-profit behind the project, hopes Beresheet (“In the beginning” in Hebrew) will prove an inspiration to all those who follow its progress.

“Exactly in the moment that the Falcon 9 was crossing the horizon, the Moon rose at Cape Canaveral - which I think was quite symbolic to this journey of getting the first Israeli rocket ship to the Moon,” SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub told BBC News.

Beresheet grew out of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which offered financial incentives in 2007 to any non-government-funded team that could pull off a Moon landing.

None of the groups that entered the competition managed to meet its deadlines and the offer of prize money was withdrawn, but several of the participants did promise to keep working on their ideas, SpaceIL among them.

If the US$100m Beresheet craft can get down safely, it will take photos to send back to Earth and engage in some magnetic investigations. The targeted landing site is in a northern-hemisphere lava plain called Mare Serenitatis, where magnetic anomalies are known to exist.

The robot’s onboard magnetometer device will acquire measurements - and not just in one location, because Beresheet will, some hours after landing, hop to a new spot.

Prof Oded Aharonson, of the Weizmann Institute, leads Beresheet’s science team. The Moon does not generate a global magnetic field, but on the surface, various areas or rocks are magnetic at different levels.

“If we can measure the magnetism of these rocks, we can begin to understand how and when this magnetism arose,” the prof explained.

Mr Winetraub added: “Also, we have another instrument in a collaboration with Nasa. That is a retroreflector (a device that reflects light back to its source) and that will join an array of reflectors that was already put on the Moon by the Apollo missions, and that will be used for their purposes to measure distances and lunar dynamics.”



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