Malfunctions that led to the crash-landing, communication problems with the lander, the failed scientific mission, the limited government funding, the American investigation over a possible moon contamination – and also the profoundly positive impact of Israel’s first spacecraft to the moon: A year after the launch of “Beresheet”: Previously unpublished information about the mission

In the pre-dawn hours of February 22, 2019, hundreds of thousands of Israelis eagerly followed the launch of Beresheet – the Israeli spacecraft about to make history by landing on the moon. Beyond making Israel the fourth country in the world to do so, if successful, the mission had additional historic aspects: It was the first privately funded lunar lander, the smallest and most affordable spacecraft to serve in this capacity, and the first to be sent as a "hitchhiker" or secondary payload. The primary payload of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was an Indonesian communications satellite.

Beresheet’s trajectory consisted of increasingly larger elliptical orbits of the Earth. Each orbit-changing maneuver required operating the spacecraft’s engine for short periods of time – up to several minutes – in order to accelerate it. On April 4, the spacecraft made its most complicated maneuver, aside from the landing itself, this time using its engine and thrusters to slow down and enter lunar orbit. One week and several small maneuvers later, Beresheet began its descent, using all its power to decelerate in order to softly land at Mare Serenitatis ("Sea of Serenity").

At first, everything proceeded according to the plan, but about ten minutes to the scheduled touchdown, a series of technical glitches caused the engine to shut down, sending Beresheet on a hard landing on the surface. Later that night, SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) representatives explained that the cause of the malfunction was one of the accelerometers and pledged to conduct a detailed investigation and make their findings public. Although the investigation has concluded, its details were never published officially; we bring them here, for the first time, with substantial new information about the mission.

נשאר מכתש על פני הירח: אתר ההתרסקות של בראשית בצילומים של הלוויין LRO לפני ואחרי פגיעתה בקרקע | מקור: NASA
A crater was left on the moon: Pictures of Beresheet’s crash-landing site before and after the crash | LRO satellite photos, courtesy of NASA

A chain of malfunctions

As with most space accidents, Beresheet’s crash-landing was caused by a series of malfunctions, rather than a single problem. Some of the issues stemmed from the original design of the spacecraft, which was very small and built on a relatively low budget for comparable space missions ($100 million, including launch and operation costs). Others originated in human error.

Almost immediately after launch, Beresheet’s engineers reported a problem with its star trackers – a pair of cameras designed to take pictures of the sky, identify specific stars, and thus determine the orientation of the spacecraft in space – i.e., whether it was flying “forwards,” “backwards,” or “sideways.” This information is crucial for engine operation, because a wrong angle can significantly alter spacecraft’s trajectory. It is probable that during the separation from the Falcon 9 rocket, dust particles landed on the dark shields protecting the cameras from direct sunlight, and reflected sunlight, thus "blinding" the cameras.

 חדר הבקרה של משימת בראשית בזמן הנחיתה | צילום: אלירן אביטל, SpaceIL
Bold and creative solutions. The mission’s control room during Beresheet landing | Photo: Eliran Avital, SpaceIL

Initial attempts to work around this problem with new software commands failed, prompting the engineers to seek creative solutions, such as rolling the spacecraft during maneuvers, and using the accelerometers instead of the star trackers in maneuvers where sunlight could not be avoided. However, these changes made it difficult to pinpoint the spacecraft’s location and also spelled much extra work for the team, since each small tilt can also shift its trajectory.

Another complication emerged a few days after launch, when the computer unexpectedly rebooted itself and canceled a planned orbital maneuver. This problem continued to plague the lander on its journey to the moon, probably due to a malfunction in the electronics box connecting the computer to the other spacecraft systems. The box may have been damaged as a result of its exposure to radiation in space. This is part of the price paid for a small, light spacecraft with minimal radiation protection and relatively inexpensive components, some of which, like this electronics box, were designed exclusively for Beresheet and never tested in space.

The minimal budget meant that the spacecraft only had one computer. Therefore, any software patches designed to address problems that emerged during the mission were not coded into the computer’s hard-drive but only into its working memory (RAM). As a result, the patches were deleted upon each reboot and had to be uploaded again in a command file.

During the descent to the lunar surface, with the engine running, one of the accelerometers (dubbed Inertial Measurement Unit, or IMU), suddenly shut down. There were two accelerometers aboard Beresheet, which could function well with only one. So the control team had to make a quick call: Continue with a single IMU – and hope it doesn’t stop too – or try to restart the IMU that had shut down. They opted for the latter. However, because of the spacecraft’s design, restarting one IMU briefly blocks communications with the other, functioning IMU. For less than a second, the computer did not receive acceleration data and, as programmed, declared it was a navigation malfunction, and rebooted. The reboot lasted less than two seconds, but after the restart, the computer did not have the new software add-ons, which were supposed to load every minute. As a result, the computer rebooted repeatedly, and only after about five such reboots, did the software patches finally load.

The computer reboots caused the spacecraft’s main engine to shut down, which, at this point, was supposed to be continually running in order to slow the descent. The computer should have started the engine immediately, but now a malfunction that was discovered just before launch, without sufficient time to repair it came into play: To restart the engine, it must receive voltage from two sources, but following the reboot, only one was functioning, so the main engine did not turn on. The spacecraft continued its plunge towards the lunar surface, only the small directional thrusters operating and keeping it on course. Beresheet hit the surface at more than 3,000 kilometers per hour, and probably shattered to pieces.

גובה: 149 מטר, מהירות אופקית: 946.7 מטר לשנייה, מהירות אנכית: 134.3 מטר לשנייה. המסך בחדר הבקרה עם הנתונים האחרונים מבראשית | מקור: SpaceIL
Altitude 149m, horizontal velocity 946.7 m/sec, vertical velocity 134.3 m/sec. The last data received from Beresheet | SpaceIL

Cheap things come at a cost

As mentioned earlier, some of Beresheet’s problems were caused by the use of relatively inexpensive components that had not been tested in space. Even the IMUs, which operated properly prior to the critical malfunction, were not developed specifically for space flight, and available information about their function in satellites was incomplete. Concerns over the IMUs would function in deep space were behind the fact that they were of the few redundant components on the craft.

"In an ordinary mission, we would not have launched a spacecraft in such a condition," said Opher Doron, until recently, General Manager of the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Space Division, which collaborated with SpaceIL on the project. "There was little redundancy of components and systems, most of the parts were never tested in space, the likelihood of a successful lunar landing was very low, and we weren’t sufficiently prepared. Usually, we do not launch unless there is high likelihood of success, but Beresheet was launched because it was a "New Space" mission (small, low-cost space missions; EN), and that’s how things work in this field. Similarly, the mission team, despite their substantial training and preparation, were not sufficiently trained. With an ordinary satellite, we would have postponed the launch, but when you’re a hitchhiker and not the main payload, that isn't an option. We decided that it was good enough and launched not as ready as we would have liked."

עידו ענתבי (מימין) ועופר דורון על רקע חדר הבקרה בזמן הנחיתה | צילום מתוך סרטון של SpaceIL
We thought that there was no public interest. Ofer Doron (left) and Ido Anteby in the control room during landing | SpaceIL video capture

But Doron also emphasizes that building the spacecraft in such a short timeframe and troubleshooting it in real-time were tremendous accomplishments. "A marvelous group of individuals made a great effort to execute an almost impossible mission and almost succeeded. They deserve considerable credit. The landing failed not because of human error, but due to a series of malfunctions."

"The spacecraft wasn’t designed to withstand two separate malfunctions; otherwise, it would have cost $1 billion instead of 100 million", adds Ido Anteby, SpaceIL CEO during the mission. "It is impossible to test how a spacecraft functions on the moon before it actually goes to the moon, but we performed all possible tests and simulations ahead of time and would not have launched if we weren’t ready."

So why was the full investigation report not published? "By the time we finished it, everything was already known and clarified, and there seemed to be no point in publishing," says Anteby. Doron adds, "We came to the conclusion that there was little interest in continuing to discuss this, among ourselves as well as the general public."

החללית בראשית בתא אולטרה-סאונד לבדיקת מוכנותה | צילום: התעשייה האווירית
We conducted all possible tests. The spacecraft tested in an ultrasound chamber | Israel Aerospace Industries

The exhausting search

Would avoiding to restart the shut down IMU have prevented the chain of malfunctions and enabled a soft landing? That is obviously impossible to answer, and other problems may have occurred. In the control room video of the landing procedure, shortly after the command to restart the IMU was given, voices can be heard objecting to this decision. Was it a human error? Failure to share information among teams? An accumulation of issues in the spacecraft? Different people in the project have different views. One fact remains undisputed: During the mission’s seven weeks, the team worked much harder than expected to solve a completely different issue.

In addition to the computer reboots and star tracker issues, the team encountered a significant problem figuring the exact location of the spacecraft, a fact that wasn’t readily shared with the media and the public. The precise location of the spacecraft was calculated through the communication with it: The time a signal sent from the spacecraft took to reach ground stations was measured to determine Beresheet’s distance from Earth. Measuring the Doppler effect, i.e., changes in the frequency of radio waves, allows calculating the spacecraft’s speed and direction. This data, together with the angles calculated by the star trackers, provide the information needed to know how to orient the engine during maneuvers.  

Communications with the spacecraft relied on an array of antennas of the Swedish company SSC, but were fraught with problems, especially during the early weeks, and the engineers had to constantly check and recheck their data. This was compounded by the problem with the star trackers, as operating them sometimes required rotating the spacecraft, which could result in a slight change of trajectory. Determining Beresheet’s location every time took much longer than planned. The extra work on software patches was similarly time-consuming. Engineers were forced to cancel planned vacations or cut them short, and often had to sleep on-site.

The workload increased significantly in the final week of the mission, during which a series of maneuvers in lunar orbit was planned. In addition to the engineers’ fatigue, the immense amount of work led to the cancellation of several landing drills planned to take place during the mission. Would these drills have revealed the glitches that led to the crash? No one can tell. The number of possible scenarios is immense, and there is no certainty that they would have actually practiced the scenario that ultimately crash the spacecraft. 

The unsuccessful scientific mission

In addition to the challenge of successfully landing on the moon, Beresheet also planned to carry out a science experiment, led by Prof. Oded Aharonson from the Weizmann Institute of Science. The mission was based on a magnetometer used to measure local magnetic fields, with the goal of better understanding the moon’s geology and formation. The magnetometer was supposed to measure the magnetic fields, especially during the landing sequence, when the spacecraft passes over the lunar surface at a relatively low altitude, and transmit the information and images in real-time via NASA’s Deep Space communications network. After the crash, scientists and engineers were hopeful that they could still use the collected data, but it is now clear that there isn’t any new information.

"We tried out the magnetometer early on in the mission, and it worked well during the landing. We obtained information from an altitude of 20km, but not the more interesting measurements from lower altitudes. The probe probably continued to measure, but no longer transmitted the data," says Aharonson. "From the data that was collected, we weren’t able to extract any useful information. Since the moon’s magnetic fields are relatively weak, and the spacecraft itself produces a strong field, the magnetometer operated partially outside of the intended range, making it difficult to extract information from the data and draw new conclusions about the moon."

Another scientific device added to the mission just prior to the launch, following the agreement signed with NASA to use its communications network, was a reflector – a small, 5-cm-diameter dome, coated with special mirrors and designed to reflect a laser signal from the American Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite orbiting the moon. It would have enabled to accurately determine the satellite’s altitude, as well as the spacecraft’s location. For several weeks, Aharonson and the satellite operators scanned the crash area in an attempt to detect the laser reflector, but in vain. "It may have broken into pieces, it may have remained intact but buried in the ground, and we may have just missed it," Aharonson concluded.

פרופ' עודד אהרונסון עם בראשית | צילום: SpaceIL
We weren’t able to extract any useful information. Prof. Oded Aharonson with Beresheet | SpaceIL

Tardigrades and investigations

Beresheet carried to the moon a Lunar Library holding information about Earth and Israel, as well as children’s drawings, and other symbolic items chosen by the spacecraft’s operators, with public help. The library is not digital, and the microscopic texts are engraved on thin nickel sheets. This archive was fabricated by Arch Mission Foundation, which also paid SpaceIL a hefty sum for of the library to the moon; the foundation defines itself as a non-profit organization with the goal of creating a backup for Earth. In their words: "to continuously preserve and disseminate humanity’s most important knowledge across time and space." About four months after the crash, Wired magazine reported that the organization had also included human DNA samples as well as tardigrades (“water bears”), tiny creatures known for their ability to survive in harsh conditions.

SpaceIL members were unaware of the initiative taken by the organization’s founder, Nova Spivack, to place biological material in the Lunar Library. Its presence on board the spacecraft raised concerns about a possible contamination of the moon by the biological material. The tardigrade story was widely published, but we are now reporting for the first time that following this incident, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) opened an investigation against SpaceIL and SpaceX, which launched the Falcon 9 rocket. The inquiry was held even though the only evidence that there was any biological material on board is Spivack’s comments. SpaceIL had to hire legal representation in Israel and the U.S., at considerable cost. The proceedings ended several months later, without any action taken against the parties, in part, after Spivack himself explained in a letter that he alone bears the responsibility.

ספריית הירח | מקור: Arch Mission Foundation
Microscopic texts engraved on thin nickel sheets. The Lunar Library | Arch Mission Foundation

On top of the considerable expenses, the incident also cost SpaceIL and IAI a missed opportunity of providing Beresheet with a handsome picture of victory. “We sent the spacecraft’s model to the International Astronautical Congress in Washington DC last October, and the plan was to arrange with NASA a joint photo of the model with all the living astronauts who had walked on the moon,” Doron explains. “It could have been a fantastic grand finale.”

According to SpaceIL, "The founder of the Arch Mission Foundation has stated in various forums (such as this) that the SpaceIL was not aware of the issue. As we have stated, up until now, we are not certain if tardigrades were indeed on board. The FAA determined that the organization acted appropriately and in accordance with all accepted procedures."

"This was blown massively out of proportion," Spivack said in correspondence with him for this article. "Keep in mind the Apollo astronauts left nearly 100 bags of human excrement on the Moon, without a permit. The Chinese landed seeds and grew a plant on the Moon last year. Many spacecrafts have crashed on the moon, contaminating it with highly toxic fuels. The alleged tardigrades were never proved to exist but were said to be non-living and encased in epoxy, and moreover the alleged quantity of tuns was invisibly small. It was nothing but a poetic ‘signature’ from Earth."

Spivack, however, declined to explicitly confirm that there was indeed any biological material in the spacecraft. "Even I am unable to prove that there were or were not any tardigrades. I can only say: The probability that there are tardigrades alive on the moon today is zero. It’s a mystery that will only be scientifically resolvable by going to Moon and seeing if there are any in the wreckage of Beresheet and the Lunar Library – if there is any."

An examination of the full Lunar Library’s technical specifications, a 107-page document available on Arch Mission’s website, reveals that it also included "vaults" – a list of 23 collections, of which only eight have been listed, and 15 are "not revealed yet." The eight that are detailed include, alongside the tardigrades and DNA, religious writings, material on indigenous peoples and tribes in various areas, relics of saints, and soil samples from holy sites. Spivack declined to comment on the other collections but claimed they did not contain any biological material.

"We have been very supportive and helpful to SpaceIL in many ways over many years – and the tardigrades story has been positively received among the target audience of the mission: Kids and students around the world. Just look at the Tweets about the possibility of tardigrades on the moon that continue to this day," Spivack added. "I think that on the whole, it was a net positive for SpaceIL’s image and place in history. I hope to help SpaceIL capture even more of the public’s imagination on a future mission if they want to do it. SpaceIL did absolutely nothing wrong and no rules were actually broken. A few feathers got ruffled, however, and I apologize for that."

Not everyone agrees. "It was a bizarre event, and I don't understand how he didn’t end up in prison," Doron says. "It’s infuriating and, as far as I’m concerned, it stains the project’s reputation; it contradicted the spirit of Beresheet," adds Yigal Harel, who headed SpaceIL's Engineering team. "The engineering team did not participate in determining the contents of the disc – we just had to make sure it met the requirements for space launch. If there were tardigrades in the disc, I assume they did not survive the explosion that occurred when the fuel burst into flames following the crash."

Harel adds that one of the reasons for ending the proceedings was SpaceIL’s systemized work vis-à-vis the FAA. "They saw how serious we were all along, and when this deception was exposed, they took it into consideration."

ספריית הירח | מקור: Arch Mission Foundation
Resistant to radiation and extreme conditions. Tardigrades as seen in an electron microscope | Science Photo Library

Show me the money

SpaceIL is an non-profit organization established in 2011 to participate in the Google -sponsored Lunar X-Prize contest, which offered a prize of $20 million to a private venture that would be first to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. Along with developing the first versions of the spacecraft, the three founders – Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Weintraub – also worked to establish SpaceIL as an educational organization, which uses the spacecraft project to encourage children and youth to study science and engineering.

At the end of 2014, entrepreneur Morris Kahn, who supported the founders in the early years, decided to increase his investment and help engage additional donors. This enabled the organization to recruit a professional team of aerospace engineers and advance the venture. SpaceIL was the first participant in the competition to sign a launch contract (with SpaceX), and the work progressed rapidly, with the assistance of IAI, in whose facility the spacecraft was constructed.

By the end of 2017, the budget was running out, and the moon seemed farther than ever. Despite this, work continued while the organization accumulated a $10 million debt to the IAI. Another blow came in early 2018, when Google announced – after several postponements – that it is ending the competition without declaring any winners. The prize money, which was part of the project’s planned budget, was subtracted, and the project was on the verge of collapse. SpaceIL and IAI sought additional donors and applied for increased financial aid from the government of Israel.

According to Google’s competition rules, groups were allowed to receive government support of up to 10% of the project’s total cost. At first, the Ministry of Science pledged NIS 5.5 million to the project, about 10% of its estimated budget, but paid only some NIS 2 million. The ministry agreed to increase the budget, adding NIS 7.25 million, to a total of just under NIS 10 million. But since the project’s budget had reached $100 million by this point, the government could more than quadruple its support, particularly after the decision to go ahead with the launch outside the competition’s framework.

Although the Ministry of Science and Technology and Minister Ofir Akunis have boasted Beresheet’s great achievements, it is now clear that at the moment of truth, the ministry did not respond to appeals for increased funding in an attempt to save the Israeli spacecraft project. Minister Akunis, who even flew to Florida to attend the launch, repeatedly emphasized Beresheet’s accomplishment and its significance to the State of Israel, along with his ministry’s contribution to the project, which he said was limited by the contest rules. Eventually, it was Kahn, once again, who saved the day and increased his donation to more than $40 million, provided that the IAI would write off the debt. Finally, IAI agreed under two conditions: Gaining ownership and intellectual property rights to all Beresheet knowledge, and a full partnership in mission management and public relations.

Avi Blasberger, Director General of the Israel Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology, pointed out in response to our inquiry that increasing Beresheet’s budget by more than NIS 7 million in 2018 would account for one-tenth of the agency’s budget, on top of the agency’s and Ministry of Science’s numerous activities on behalf of the project. "Our budget increase was an important factor in Kahn’s decision to continue the project," he said. "We also added NIS 1 million for educational activities and NIS 700,000 to fund the scientific mission. In addition, we signed on their behalf an agreement with NASA to use its Deep Space Network, which was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and would not have been possible without our involvement. We are also working with NASA to assist with the next mission."

The Ministry of Science and Technology further stated: "The Space Agency initiated and promoted, in collaboration with SpaceIL, educational activities to encourage the exposure of young people to space and science and technology studies. The agency also presents SpaceIL’s activities at major Ministry of Science events, including the Israel Space Week and Science Day, and in various educational programs. The broad collaboration with the Ministry of Education and SpaceIL serves as a force multiplier for the main goal, of creating a ‘Beresheet effect’ among the younger generation". The ministry added that Minister Akunis has pledged to double government support for Beresheet 2, to NIS 20 million.

מוריס קאהן (שני משמאל) עם נשיא המדינה ראובן ריבלין ומייסדי SpaceIL כפיר דמרי (משמאל) יריב בש ויהונתן ויינטראוב | צילום: עמוס בן גרשום, SpaceIL
L-R: Kfir Damari, Morris Kahn, Yariv Bash, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Yonatan Weintraub | Amos Ben Gershom, SpaceIL

Spacecraft and other vegetables

Officially, the Beresheet mission aimed to demonstrate Israel’s technological capabilities and create a public impact similar to the "Apollo Effect" – the enormous interest in science and technology that the manned lunar landings generated among young Americans. Indeed, much of the project’s efforts were turned to public relations, as part of a clear media strategy: to present a success at all costs.

“To ensure public solidarity, we designed a media campaign intended to portray the spacecraft as our spacecraft – with the goal of recruiting the entire Israeli population to the venture,” Doron says. "This also led to our decision to share with the public the problems and difficulties that we encountered during the mission."

"At the heart of the media strategy was the assumption that there was a reasonable chance that we would not be able to land on the moon and that we might not even reach it. That is why we decided to publicize a sequence of successes even before the launch, so that if the mission would end prematurely, we would still be able to present it as a success. That's the reason we held a huge event to announce the launch, even before a final launch date was set; initiated a presentation of the spacecraft in the media; ran a public campaign to select its name and asked the public to suggest contents for the Lunar Library.

"The ceremony of installing the disk containing the Lunar Library in the spacecraft was a publicity stunt – the actual disk installation in the spacecraft was performed a few days later by the technical team. Delivering the spacecraft to the launch site was also a show for the media – from the transport to Ben Gurion Airport with the completely unnecessary police escort, to its loading onto the cargo plane. The public did not know that in order to cut costs, the cargo plane that transported Beresheet to the U.S. had a stopover in Liege, Belgium, to unload a shipment of vegetables."

Likewise, during the mission, considerable resources were allocated to promoting the media strategy and public relations. "The spacecraft’s selfie with Earth was meant to serve as a ‘victory image,’ in case we don’t make it to the moon, and in order to take it, we had to negotiate with the FAA, which initially did not approve of taking photos so near Earth, but eventually relented," Doron adds. "The selfie in lunar orbit incurred a significant price, because a computer command file had to be ‘wasted’ on it."

In October 2018, about four months ahead of the launch, an agreement was signed with NASA allowing SpaceIL to use the U.S. space agency's Deep Space Network to communicate with the spacecraft using broadband and transmit information rapidly. The network consists of an advanced array of antennas located at several sites worldwide, and the engineering teams put in a tremendous effort to establish the communications interface with the NASA system in a short time. "We completed a two-year job in just four months," says one of the engineers who worked on the project.

"Insisting on investing extensive resources in the communications system with NASA’s network was primarily intended to enable us to send real-time images from the landing site. We put in a lot of effort and preparation to convey a message of success even if the success was only partial," Doron adds. In the end, this may have been the right decision: The selfie image from the beginning of the landing, against the moon’s background, is the closest thing to a landing that the mission has left behind.

"Although we didn’t land, the mission was a huge success," he concludes. "Both the Americans and the Russians failed multiple times before completing a soft landing. Only China made a successful soft landing in the first attempt, and we are the only ones crazy enough to have the audacity to try to land on a first mission. Despite the numerous difficulties, we have come a very long way.

תמונת הסלפי של בראשית מעל הירח מתחילת הנחיתה | מקור: SpaceIL
Closest to a successful landing: A selfie of Beresheet from the beginning of the descent to the lunar surface |Source: SpaceIL

The Beresheet effect

Despite the justified anger over Spivack’s step and the cost of his conduct, there may be something in his remarks about the public effect of the tardigrade affair. It seems that the debate over whether tardigrades can survive on the moon has reached well beyond the space buffs’ circles, including children and young people. The question of life outside Earth following the revelations about Beresheet’s mission continues to engage people on social networks even today.

SpaceIL also sought to emphasize the educational impact of the mission: “Beresheet led the State of Israel to an unprecedented achievement by making it the seventh country in the world to orbit the moon. While it didn’t make a soft landing on the moon, it is important to remember that the primary mission was actually here, on Earth, to create an Israeli ‘Apollo effect.’ Beresheet’s mission reached unprecedented success when all Israeli children thought, learned, and dreamed of space and of the moon. The boldness and capabilities demonstrated by the engineering team were groundbreaking on a global scale”.

Has the ‘Beresheet effect’ also reached the higher education? The only institution in Israel that offers an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering is the Technion in Haifa. Its Faculty of Aerospace Engineering revealed that 110 undergraduates were enrolled this year, in comparison to 97 last year – a 13% increase. According to the faculty’s dean, Prof. Tal Shima, the increase may be due to the success and public exposure of the Israeli lunar mission, but he also notes that the faculty has opened a new program in collaboration with the IDF, which is attracting students as well.

In addition to the educational and public impact, the Beresheet mission has made a direct impact on space exploration, demonstrating that the moon can be reached by a small, inexpensive spacecraft. "When you look at the companies that have won NASA tenders for unmanned space travel to the moon, you see that their budgets are on our scale – tens of millions, rather than a billion dollars," says Anteby. "It’s a huge influence on the area of New Space, thanks to the X-Prize and our achievement."

New frontiers

According to the original plan, SpaceIL was scheduled to end its space operations upon completion of the Beresheet mission. All the engineers were notified that their work will be terminated after the lunar operation, and the organization planned to continue its educational activities and leverage the space mission. But soon after it became clear that the spacecraft had crashed on the moon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised, "We will try again. We have reached the moon, but we want to land more softly." Two days later, Kahn, who serves as SpaceIL’s president, announced, "As of today, we are working on Beresheet 2." As a result, the employment of several members of the engineering team was extended, to enable them to work on the crash investigation and begin formulating the next mission.

Some of the engineers also tried to initiate new projects based on the knowledge gained in Beresheet. But since the intellectual property belongs to IAI, and without additional funding, everyone was eventually fired. About two months later, SpaceIL’s management announced that Beresheet 2 had been canceled and that “Trying to repeat a journey to the moon is not challenging enough.”

Some of the mission’s engineers have joined other organizations related to space, while others have established, or are currently establishing, space-related start-up companies. One of these is Yigal Harel, who recently founded WeSpace – a commercial venture to develop innovative vehicles for exploring the moon’s lava tubes. These are natural caves created by early lunar volcanic activity which were not explored so far, although they hold great potential, for example, as shelters for astronauts. Harel also hopes to find in them ice that has not evaporated because the caves are not exposed to sunlight.

"We are developing the technology that will allow us to access these places. At this point, former SpaceIL employees are volunteering with us. Once we’ll raise the funds, most of them will join the company," Harel promises. "The space investment market is huge, and we have an advantage because few companies operate in the realm of deep space – and that’s what’s next."

The American Genesis

It appears that SpaceIL’s next mission will be to the moon anyway. "We are planning a very similar spacecraft to Beresheet, but with greater emphasis on scientific missions, and possibly with an additional component, such as a satellite that will remain in orbit around the moon. We want to provide added value to the mission, besides the landing itself," emphasizes Kfir Damari, one of SpaceIL’s three founders and the organization’s VP of Education. "The previous statement did not accurately represent our outlook. It was assumed that we are not interested in repeating an identical mission, but developing and constructing another spacecraft is a challenge of an entirely different order of magnitude."

"We are not looking to repeat the exact same mission, but to lead one that will move and inspire," adds Yonatan Weintraub, another SpaceIL co-founder, who is involved in planning the new mission. "We have the opportunity to join an international effort to land humans on the moon, and the question is how Israel can contribute to that."

Although they did not win Google’s Lunar X-Prize, SpaceIL received a $1-million award from the organizers.

Last month, the Blavatnik Family Foundation announced its own donation of $1 million to the project. "The money from the X-Prize will be channeled to continuing educational activities, while the recent donation will finance initial work on the next spacecraft," Damari explains. "It has also enabled us to recruit a new CEO, Shimon Sarid, who will assume the role next month and begin planning the next mission. Even if we can raise funds from other sources – government support or charges for carrying scientific payloads on board the spacecraft – I expect most of the budget will still come from philanthropy."

גלגול אחר: חללית ג'נסיס, הגירסה האמריקאית של בראשית, המתמודדת במכרז נאס"א | הדמיה: חברת Firefly
A new incarnation: Arist's concept of the Genesis lander, the American version of Beresheet, that is bidding on a NASA tender | Firefly

An incarnation of Beresheet may eventually land on the moon. The IAI has partnered with Firefly Aerospace, a U.S.-based company that is bidding in a NASA tender with the spacecraft Genesis (English for the Hebrew word "Beresheet") to launch unmanned spacecrafts to the moon, ahead of the resumption of manned flights as part of the Artemis program. Firefly’s spacecraft is an almost identical version of Beresheet, and is based on the knowledge and intellectual property that now belongs to IAI. "We wish them success, " concludes Damari. "We have developed the spacecraft to advance the knowledge of all mankind."

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