SpaceIL co-founder: ‘We landed in too many pieces, but we did land’

SpaceIL co-founder: ‘We landed in too many pieces, but we did land’

Last April, an Israeli non-profit called SpaceIL attempted to become the first privately funded organisation to land a spacecraft on the moon. The $100m mission – funded by Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, other philanthropists and the Israel Space Agency – had set off in February aboard a SpaceX rocket with the intention of landing on the moon, taking some photographs and conducting some science experiments.

Called Beresheet – meaning ‘in the beginning’ in Hebrew – the lander grew out of the Google Lunar X Prize competition that tasked private developers to create a craft that could travel to the moon, land on it, and then send images and data back to Earth.

While the deadline for the $30m prize ended towards the beginning of last year, SpaceIL was determined to proceed anyway as part of its overall mission of promoting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to kids in its native Israel and elsewhere across the world.

As we now know, Beresheet did not safely touch down on the lunar surface as communication was lost with the craft just 150 metres away from touchdown. Immediately after, SpaceIL wouldn’t acknowledge it as a failure, instead calling its effort a major achievement.

Potentially going private?

Speaking of the aftermath of the landing attempt, Winetraub said he and the rest of the SpaceIL crew were touched by the responses received from followers of the project.

“The amount of letters, Facebook posts and tweets that we got from kids was absolutely amazing,” he said.

“There was a girl saving up money for a bike and she went to us and said she’d rather see an outer spaceship and wanted to donate a couple of hundred dollars. That was really touching and a sign we got the attention of those kids.”

The company finds itself in a somewhat unique position in the space sector as neither a governmental agency nor a private company, but a non-profit relying entirely on funding through donations.

The last mission, which cost approximately $100m, was largely donated by Kahn. For the next mission, SpaceIL will need to seek new funding in order to achieve its next ‘moonshot’.

When asked whether the Israeli outfit could potentially follow the SpaceX route and become a private company, Winetraub didn’t want to rule it out.

“Never say never. I think that currently we’re set up as a non-profit, but we might want to revise it at some point. [Being a non-profit] worked for the first mission, so we would want to try it for the next one,” he said.

Disclosure: The journalist’s trip to Singapore was provided by the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

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