As Israel launches its first moon mission, here’s what you need to know
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As Israel launches its first moon mission, here’s what you need to know

Jewish News counts down to Israel’s first lunar mission, set to take off today...!

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

The Mission

Israel’s first moon mission will conduct scientific measurements that will give the world a greater insight into the lunar magnetic field.

The Earth’s magnetic field is much stronger than that of the Moon. It protects us from solar radiation and cosmic rays, and is created from deep inside the Earth, where our swirling hot iron core creates electric currents, which in turn creating magnetic fields.

Some experts believe the Moon once had the same ‘dynamo effect’.

The Moon still has an iron core today, but it is small and cold, creating very little by way of a magnetic field, yet lunar 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,” says Professor Oded Aharonson of the Weizmann Institute, who heads the mission’s international science team.

The landing craft will measure the magnetic fields in ancient volcanic rocks, similar to basalts on Earth, to see if their intensity matches that suggested by the core-dynamo theory. It may help scientists work out how long ago the dynamo was active.

The measurements may show that at least some of the Moon’s magnetic field is due to the bombardment of asteroids, or even from magnetic material that originated in the asteroids themselves.

Aharonson says the short 15-minute descent to surface of the Moon will be critical. This is when the readings of the magnetic field will increase. Measuring this increase, plus any changes as it passes over different areas, will be crucial to understanding its source.

The Minds

The project is the world’s first commercial and non-state moon exploration mission, an independent initiative started by the three young entrepreneurs who founded SpaceIL.

Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub – a space engineer, a cyber security expert and a drone maker – had the idea to land the first Israeli space vehicle on the Moon in the place all good ideas arrive – the bar!

SpaceIL Co-Founders, CEO and President. Pi by Eliran Avital.

Over a beer in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, they decided that not only was it possible, but that it would inspire a new generation of students to study science and technology.

“As the alcohol level in our blood rose, we got more and more determined to do this,” said Winetraub, in an interview with From The Grapevine. “And it never faded away.”

Although Bash and Winetraub later stepped back, Damari remained on the management team.

An artist’s impression of the craft

An engineer and entrepreneur, he describes himself as “a proud geek” who began computer programming at the age of six and wrote his “first computer virus aged 11”.

He later served in the IDF’s elite and highly secretive cyber unit in an intelligence role.

They entered Israel into the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize competition to build, launch and land  an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon. SpaceIL was the only Israeli representative.

In October 2015, they signed the launch contract – a “ticket to the Moon” – and, in January 2017, became one of five finalists. But the competition ended with no winners in March 2018, with Google ending their sponsorship.

Despite that, the trio said they would continue working toward their goal.

Contemplating “the day after” the landing, the SpaceIL founders said the point was “to enhance the quality of education, to close  educational gaps in Israeli society and to provide the graduates of the educational system with the tools they will need in order to thrive in the 21st century”.

The Money

The cost of planning and building the spacecraft was $100 million (£771,000), most of it contributed by private donors. Contributing $40m (£31m)  is
SpaceIL’s 88-year-old president, the South African-born Israeli philanthropist Morris Kahn.

“This is big,” he said this week. “If you can prove a small group of people can get together and land on the Moon, you will really have created something for space
exploration.”

Space engineers hope to inspire a new generation of scientists

He added: “I travel round with Buzz Aldrin. I remember where I was when he landed on the Moon. I believe when Israel lands on the Moon, every Jew will remember where he was. I want to get the message across to the world, that Israel is doing something great.”

Other big donors include American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miri, Israeli-Canadian real estate billionaire Sylvan Adams, Israeli plastics magnate Sami Sagol, American philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, and property developer Stephen Grand and his wife Nancy.

The spacecraft will be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket made by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

After multiple orbits around the Earth, it will arrive at its destination two months later.

 

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