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First private Moon lander reveals new lunar space race

Israel is coming to the Moon – and a milestone of the moon. If everyone goes, an lander scheduled to launch on 21 February will be the first privately-funded boat to land on the Moon. The work seems to be set to begin a new moon exploration period – one in which national space agencies work with private industries to investigate and exploit the Moon and its resources.

The craft, named Beresheet – & # 39; at the beginning & # 39; in Hebrew – was built by a non-profit Israeli company called SpaceIL which raised US $ 100 million for its mission, many of them through charitable donations. Beresheet will lift a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and should reach Mare Serenitatis, basaltic plain in the northern hemisphere of the Moon, in April (see & # 39; Moon shot & # 39;). There, it will study the attraction of lunar rocks, a puzzling phenomenon given the lack of a global satellite satellite (see & # 39; What will the Beresheet do in the Month? & # 39; ;).

The mission is not fully private, because it involves government partners. And even though the craft is smaller than a demonstrator – its scientific mission is simple and the lander is expected to last two days over – the mission is a vital symbol. This is Israel's first mission, as well as the first private back craft in & # 39; soft land & # 39; over the Moon – until now, the preserve of an elite club of national space agencies of the United States, China and Russia. [19659002] The success of SpaceIL is an important milestone, says Robert Böhme, chief executive and founder of PTScientists in Berlin, a private company also shot for the Moon. "This is a big proving point, since so far only one with soft landing capability is China," he said.

Israel's success can be a statement of a crop of new landers and flip the business model for the month's exploration to one of which private companies are essentially selling a delivery service. Customers can purchase space on landers to travel their cargo – from scientific instruments constructed by space agencies and universities to technology and telecommunications companies of companies that promise to put the ashes to those who love the Moon. In the long run, companies may want to go to the Moon to mine for water, which can fuel gas rocket or maintain a lunar settlement.

Lunar scientists are also set to benefit from a commercial fleet of landers. Aside from the Chang & # 39; e-4 of China – landed last month and the only active robotic resident of Moon – the last missions over the late 1970s, says Barbara Cohen, planetary scientist at Goddard Space NASA Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This generation of lunar scientists did not do anything robotically," she says. "We're really excited."

XPRIZE legacy

SpaceIL will be the first former competitor for today's Lunar XPRIZE to launch its mission on the Moon. But at least five companies that compete for the prize plan to launch missions by the end of 2021. Everyone is competing to become the first fully commercial mission to do so (see & # 39; Commercial players & 39;).

Google Lunar XPRIZE deserves credit for the popularity of the Moon today, says Bob Richards, chief executive of Moon Express at Cape Canaveral, another former competitor. The ambitious project was launched in 2007 to boost the affordable and commercial access to the Moon. It offered $ 20 million to the first team to land a steamer over and perform major tasks. The competition was canceled in January 2018 without one of the entrants set to meet the deadline of the March launch. At that time, the XPRIZE Foundation in Culver City, California, has failed in the difficulties of raising funds, as well as technical and regulatory challenges.

The landscape for private Moon landers has changed significantly since then – thanks to falling launch costs, a growing pool of buyers who are willing to pay for a Month trip and fresh government support for such efforts, said the companies.

The lead of SpaceIL in this new race goes to its finances, says Richards. [19659002] Three small engineers founded the company in Tel Aviv in 2011, but it earned $ 43 million worth of money injections from Morris Kahn, a South African citizen's now a presidential company. The mission became a national project, involving the Space Agency of Israel – spreading over $ 2 million – and Israel Aerospace Industries in Lod, the country's main aerospace and satellite firm, which built a craft. The project also cautions costs by throwing Falcon 9 ride along with other cargoes: an Indonesian satellite and, reports suggest, a small satellite for the US Air Force.

  A man wearing a safety gear uses an automated system

The Beresheet craft before launch. Credit: Tomer Levi / SpaceIL

Protected by the government

Growing interest from governments who are keen to return to the Moon also promotes new business models of the month.

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are looking to fund private firms that send scientific instruments over the months, hoping that agencies will eventually come to many customers who use service.

NASA replaces the sights back to the Moon after a directive of the US directive in 2017. The agency's goal is to provide a training ground for Mars missions and study lunar resources that can continue a person on the Moon, for example in the mining of oxygen and hydrogen for fuel, as well as pure scientific studies.

To help meet these goals, the agency launched the $ 2.6 billion, 10-year Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in 2018. In November, NASA took nine consortia, its payloads should fly to the Moon. Each is led by a US company and includes many partners to cover launches, landers and operational capabilities. Scientists have until February 27 to submit NASA measures for instruments or technologies that may comprise the raft of payloads to be commercially transmitted.

The program is intended to "start jump" with a new private Moon lander industry, says Richards, NASA's efforts reflect more than a decade ago to encourage the development of commercial spaceflight companies like SpaceX.

What will the Beresheet do in the Month?

Beresheet is a lightweight craft – 180 kilos without gasoline – to be launched in a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It will disappear from rocket 30 minutes after lift and enter Earth's orbit. Then, within the next two months, the lander will use engine fires to travel in most elliptical loops until it is near the Moon to catch the gravity of the moon.

Then came the difficult part: controlling a distant spacecraft in a [18659025] The main purpose of Beresheet's two-day scientific mission was to study the magnetic fields of the lunar rocks that it passed on last minute before landing, and to measure magnetism from the surface, says Oded Aharonson, a planetary scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science at Rehovot, Israel, taking the lead in international collaboration for scientific missions.

Scientists compare data on the magnetic fields of rocks in their ages, proposed by their geology, in a bid to solve if the Moon has a liquid metal core, which can magnetize on stones.

Beresheet will also send images and videos but not to tilt to carry out a previous plan to & # 39; hop & # 39; in a new location, where it is needed to be done to win the absence of Google Lunar XPRIZE.

Railway to the Moon

Böhme claims NASA is likely to choose dozens of payloads as part of the CLPS program, which provides several firms with a Moon shot, likely from 2020. " We are creating a railroad, a DHL delivery service to the Moon, "said John Thornton, chief executive of Astrobotic, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, another firm hoping to land the first commercial lunar craft.

For scientists, the model has pros and cons, says Cohen. In the beginning, landers will not be sophisticated and will not have scoops or drills to collect samples, or to save the cold lunar night. And scientists do not have to have access to & # 39; homework & # 39; of the craft, which can be useful for calibration. But the "big, big plus" is that the very fast number of opportunities to go to the Moon will allow a wider range of researchers to engage and conduct hazardous projects, he says.

Many former XPRIZE firms from around the world are part of teams that are eligible to bid for contracts under CLPS, even though a number also plans independent launches outside of the program (see & # 39; Commercial players & # 39;). These include the Tokyo-based spacer and the TeamIndus in Bengaluru, India, which reduces a launch plan in 2018. TeamIndus aims to launch missions on the Moon "multiple times" in the next three to five years, says Sheelika Ravishankar, who heads outreach for the company. (The Indian Space Research Organization is also expected to make its first landing in the Moon this year, with its Chandrayaan-2 mission.)

Commercial players

Many private companies competing for Google Lunar XPRIZE is still ongoing for the month. These companies constitute lunar land where they can sell space for payloads. Most have contracts to launch landers by 2021, and many have been selected as candidates to deliver NASA-funded instruments and the Moon as part of the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.


Lander details

Planned missions

Increased funding


Astrobotic (US)

Peregrine lander weighs 290 kg without gasoline. Payload is 35 kg; 265 kg for missions later.

NASA chose to be eligible to deliver month payloads. Missions can begin in 2019. Also secure the launch date at the United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, for 2021.



ispace (Japan)

HAKUTO- R lander weighs 350 kg without fuel; 30-kg payload, including 4-kg rover.

Plans to launch an orbit in 2020 and a lander in 2021, at SpaceX rockets. Involved in the Draper team, NASA chose to be eligible to deliver month payloads from 2019.

US $ 94.5 million

~ 70

Masten Space Systems (US)

XL-1 lander weighs 675 kg without fuel; 100-kg payload.

NASA chose to be eligible to deliver month payloads. Missions from 2021.


~ 20

Moon Express (US)

The MX-1E lander is weighted 250 kg with gasoline; 30-kg shipment. Modular landers will have up to 500 kg of future missions.

NASA chose to be eligible to deliver month payloads. Missions can start in 2019.

> $ 40 million

~ 50

PTScientists (Germany)

ALINA lander weighs 1,000 kg without gasoline. The payload is 200 kg, including two rovers.

Plans to launch payloads in a SpaceX rocket in 2020. Second mission planned for 2021. Involved in a NASA chosen team as eligible to deliver month payloads from 2019. Also contracted European Space Agency to explore the construction of a lander for the lunar mining mission around 2025.

Preparing to raise venture capital

~ 70

SpaceIL (Israel)

Beresheet lander has weighing 180 kg without gasoline. Not stated freight mass.

Launching lander on 21 February. There are no public plans for additional missions.

$ 100 million

~ 40

TeamIndus (India)

Z-01 owner weighs 210 kg without gasoline; 30-kg payload

Involved in the ORBITBeyond team, NASA chose to be eligible to deliver month payloads from 2019. Exploring independent launch contracts for 2022-24.

> $ 30 million

~ 70

European vision

ESA began the return of the NASA before the NASA, and hopes to strengthen the well-being of new space companies.

The agency plans a lander mission to be launched in 2025, aiming to show the feasibility of harvesting water or oxygen from the ground on the poles of the moon.

Last month, ESA contracted PTS scientists (created in direct response to XPRIZE), the rocket-maker of the ArianeGroup of Paris and Aerospace firm Space Application Services of Brussels to explore the possibility of survival such as a mission.

Böhme claims that the agency intends to secure nearly € 250 million (US $ 283 million) needed from member states in November – something that he is confident of happening because of the international m omentum the moon exploration, and the small size of the mission.

Unlike the CLPS program, where commercial partners cover the costs of launching, the ESA will pay for the launch and operation of the mission, as well as the lander space, Böhme says. Operations cost almost € 130 million, he says, and the remaining € 120 million will pay for the development of scientific advances. But these payloads take only half of the lander's capacity, so PTS Scientists can sell other spaces to other customers – for revenue. "It's a good business case that you have," says Böhme.

Reality check

Today, Richards estimates that a mission over the Moon costs about $ 50 million, half of what costs a decade ago. The size of the economy for subsequent missions can bring the price of individual payloads up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, he says.

But despite the company's success in raising investment and hiring customers, some experts remain skeptical that in the long run there are many takers beyond space agencies.

For example, it is unclear whether there are customers – apart from governments – who want rocket fuel coming from the Moon. The only beneficial use can be used to travel further from the Solar System – for example, at the asteroids mine, says Jonathan McDowell, a historian and astronomer space at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That can be decades away.

"What will they do – anything else except advertising? That's missing piece of it I can not really get my brain around," McDowell says.

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