NASA, Israel Space Agency partner for lunar launch

In a first-of-a-kind agreement, the veteran American space agency will partner with a private Israeli nonprofit in landing its unmanned module on the moon in early 2019.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

NASA announced Wednesday that it has signed a cooperation agreement with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) to help get a local nonprofit’s spacecraft to the moon within several months. The pact was signed during the 69th International Astronautical Congress on the occasion of World Space Week.

The SpaceIL organization announced in July that it will be sending a small, unmanned spacecraft to the rocky astronomical body in December, with an expected landing date of February 13, 2019. The nonprofit built its 1.5x2m. spaceship in the hopes of getting the $20 million Google Lunar X prize, for which there was no winner at the end as no group met the requirements and deadline in time.

SpaceIL, which is funded by several Israeli universities and high-tech companies besides the ISA and private philanthropy, nevertheless decided to go ahead with the project due to its stated desire to make a major educational impact and inspire schoolchildren with their mission. The decision seems to have been a worthy one, as NASA came on board to assist with certain technical issues.

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“As a private venture born as a brave idea against all odds, it is a great honor for us that NASA sees us as a worthy player in the deep space arena,” SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby commented at the signing. “We all hope that our spacecraft is only the first step and that space missions and other technological challenges in the field will follow. I believe that Israel has great potential for development in the field of space.”

The American space agency will contribute a retroreflector array, which reflects laser beams to enable NASA to precisely locate the spacecraft on the lunar surface after the landing. NASA will also give SpaceIL access to its Deep Space Network communication services, which will improve its staff’s ability to communicate with the spacecraft from Earth.

In addition, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which was launched almost a decade ago and currently orbits the Moon, will try to capture images of the Israeli spacecraft during its landing.

In exchange, NASA will have access to data gathered by the magnetometer installed aboard the spacecraft. Developed in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science, the device will measure the magnetic field on and above the landing site, according to SpaceIL’s statement.

US-Israel collaboration ‘keeps getting stronger’

Science Minister Ofir Akunis reacted with pleasure to the agreement.

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“American-Israeli collaboration keeps getting stronger in all fields, as is the relationship between NASA and the Israeli Space Agency. Israel is proud to be part of the renewed journey to the moon and to advance our technological capabilities – everywhere,” he said.

NASA recently announced that it will direct more attention to Earth’s only permanent natural satellite, and this decision is seen as part of its revitalized efforts.

“I’m thrilled to extend progress in commercial cooperation we’ve made in low-Earth orbit to the lunar environment with this new agreement with the Israel Space Agency and SpaceIL,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Innovative partnerships like this are going to be essential as we go forward to the moon and create new opportunities there.”