Can Israelis Put Two Landers on the Moon at Once?

An Israeli nonprofit will try again to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon after its first attempt ended in a crash last year.

The spacecraft, named Beresheet, made it to lunar orbit in April 2019, but plummeted to the surface during its final descent.

On Wednesday, SpaceIL, the nonprofit, announced Beresheet 2, a follow-up that is to be more complex — two landers as well as an orbiter — although the organization says it will fit into roughly the same budget as the first mission: about $100 million. Beresheet 2 is to launch in the first half of 2024.

Beresheet means “Genesis” or “in the beginning” in Hebrew.

In an interview, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, two of the founders of SpaceIL, said they did not want to simply build and launch a carbon copy of the first attempt.

“We’re looking to do something that will be unique, something that was never done before,” Mr. Damari said. “Not just, you know, repeat the same mission and just change the ending. We’re looking to do something that will be meaningful.”

The two landers would be much smaller than the first spacecraft — about 260 pounds each, fully fueled, compared with a bit less than 1,300 pounds for Beresheet — and they would land on different parts of the moon. The orbiter would circle the moon for at least a couple of years.

The three spacecraft of Beresheet 2 would together weigh about 1,400 pounds.

Even though the designs would be new, they would reuse many aspects of Beresheet, and the founders said they had learned lessons that would increase the chances of success for the second attempt. SpaceIL will again collaborate with Israel Aerospace Industries, a large satellite manufacturer.

An investigation revealed that a component tracking the lander’s orientation failed, and as mission controllers tried to reset that, they inadvertently shut down the engine, and the spacecraft fell to its destruction.

In May last year, NASA released a photograph taken by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft that showed the scar that Beresheet made on the moon.

SpaceIL hopes that international partnerships will pay for half of the cost of Beresheet 2. Mr. Damari said the United Arab Emirates, a small but wealthy country in the Persian Gulf that has set up an ambitious space program in recent years, was one of seven nations interested in taking part. He declined to name the other six.

“We’re going to do something that will have a global impact,” he said.

The Israel Space Agency is likely to provide some financing. SpaceIL will have to raise the rest from private donors.

Two of the biggest benefactors of the original Beresheet mission — Morris Kahn, a South African-Israeli billionaire who served as SpaceIL’s chairman, and Sheldon G. Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate — are not currently involved with Beresheet 2. Mr. Kahn initially said he would contribute to a second SpaceIL moonshot.

SpaceIL started as one of the competitors in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which offered $20 million for the first private entity to softly land a spacecraft on the moon. That endeavor turned out to be harder than many expected, and none of the teams, including SpaceIL, were able to do so before the prize expired at the end of 2018.

Even without the potential financial reward, SpaceIL pressed on, hoping that it would inspire younger Israelis to pursue careers in science and engineering.

The moon was the focus of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s but then was largely ignored until recent years.

China has successfully landed three spacecraft there since 2013, including a mission this month to bring back rocks from the moon for the first time since the Soviet Union’s Luna robotic probe in 1976.

NASA is also looking to send robotic missions to the moon, hiring private companies to take payloads. That first commercial mission may launch as soon as next year.


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