TEL AVIV – Billionaire backer and SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn announced over the weekend that his team would begin working immediately on the Beresheet 2.0 spacecraft after the first version crash landed on the moon Thursday evening, saying, “We’ll put our flag on the moon.”
Israel last Thursday did not succeed in its bid to become the fourth country to land on the moon when the car-sized spacecraft made it just shy of the lunar surface but crashed right before touchdown due to a glitch in its main engine.
“The response we’ve gotten has been amazing. The amount of thank yous and letters is amazing,” Kahn told Channel 12. “Over the weekend I’ve had time to think about what happened, and the truth is seeing all the encouragement and support from people all over the world is amazing.
“It gave me time to think and I thought it would be a shame to leave things like that. I’ve come to announce a new project: Beresheet 2. We started something and we need to finish it. We’ll put our flag on the moon.”
“Project Beresheet 2 begins tomorrow,” he added. “A mission team will be meeting tomorrow to start work.”
Kahn said in an English-language video on Twitter: “We’re going to put it on the moon. We’re going to complete the mission.”
— Israel To The Moon (@TeamSpaceIL) April 13, 2019
Most of the $100 million sum it cost to build Beresheet was provided by private philanthropists, chief among them Kahn.
Kahn said three elements motivated him to fund the project. The first was to bring Israel into the space age. The second was to encourage young people to become involved in the sciences. The third was to make Israelis proud. “This is an incredible accomplishment for all of us. It’s a uniquely Israeli project.”
He told Channel 12 that he was hoping next time that the public would cover some of the costs, possibly via a crowdfunding campaign.
“We’ll get the funds from donors and the public,” he said. “Everybody wants to take part. I got an offer from someone rich in the US who offered to pay a lot of money but I think the funds should come from the public. This should be a people’s project.”
Following the Beresheet crash, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to indicate that the government would support a follow-up endeavor. Unidentified government sources told Channel 12 on Saturday the government would back the project, though it was not clear to what extent.
“We’re not counting on support from the government,” Kahn said. “If they help, good, but we’re counting on the public.”
While SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries’ engineers aren’t sure what exactly caused the crash, they believe it was a failure in the altitude measurements that caused the main engine to short circuit only six miles above the moon’s surface. This meant the lander wasn’t able to brake in time.
SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub said in a press conference after the crash: “We didn’t reach the moon in one piece. That sucks. However, engineering and science are hard. Sometimes it doesn’t work the first time, sometimes it doesn’t work the second or third time. But it will work.”
Former astronaut and second man on the moon Buzz Aldrin on Thursday tweeted his condolences to the team.
“Never lose hope – your hard work, team work, and innovation is inspiring to all!” he wrote.
Condolences to the Beresheet lander @TeamSpaceIL for what almost was! Communications were lost with the spacecraft just 150 meters (!!!) above the surface, and it couldn't quite stick the landing. Never lose hope – your hard work, teamwork, and innovation is inspiring to all!
— Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) April 11, 2019
SpaceIL entered the Google Lunar X competition to land a spacecraft on the moon some eight years ago.
Lunar X answered Aldrin’s tweet by saying that it would still be awarding the SpaceIL team a $1 million “Moonshot Award” in recognition of its “amazing” accomplishments.