Israel, UAE to launch joint space projects, including Beresheet 2 Moon mission

Countries’ respective space agencies ink deals to cooperate on scientific research, space exploration, and knowledge transfer

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

From left: SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn, Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, Emirati Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, and SpaceIL CEO Shimon Sarid. (Courtesy)
From left: SpaceIL chairman Morris Kahn, Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, Emirati Minister of State for Advanced Technology and Chairwoman of the UAE Space Agency, and SpaceIL CEO Shimon Sarid. (Courtesy)

Israel and the United Arab Emirates finalized an agreement on Wednesday to collaborate on a number of space projects, including a joint launch of the “Beresheet 2” space mission to the moon, Israel’s second upcoming attempt to land an unmanned spacecraft on the lunar surface by 2024 when the countries expect to plant their flags alongside each other.

The United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) also signed a deal with the Israel Space Agency to enhance cooperation in scientific research, space exploration, and knowledge transfer.

The deal was signed on Wednesday in Dubai by Emirati Minister of State for Advanced Technology and chairwoman of UAESA Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri, and Israeli Minister of Science and Technology Orit Farkash-Hacohen.

Israel and the UAE will also conduct joint research based on information from the “VENµS” microsatellite launched in 2017, a collaboration between Israel and France. The satellite, based on a separate Israel Aerospace Industries satellite, is equipped with a twelve-spectral-bands camera that measures environmental preservation parameters such as vegetation, contamination levels in bodies of water, and coastal monitoring. It captures more than 100 sites every two days.

Farkash-Hacohen told the Emirates New Agency that data from VENµS will help with challenges such as precision farming, water monitoring, and desertification, and that the UAE was a welcome third partner. “All these areas are so important for both countries. We are dealing with challenges of agriculture in a desert climate in the midst of a global climate crisis. I hope this will benefit all of us,” she said.

Another project will see university students from both Israel and the UAE use data from the Beresheet 2 mission to help determine the precise time of the new moon. Both the Jewish and Muslim calendars are governed by the lunar calendars, with the dates of major holidays being determined by the moon’s cycle.

One of the last photos taken by Beresheet before it crash-landed into the moon, on April 11, 2019. (Courtesy SpaceIL)

These agreements were the latest step forward in the burgeoning relationship between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi since the signing of the Abraham Accords in September 2020, normalizing relations between Israel and the UAE, followed by Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. The agreements created a buzz of excitement regarding the potential for economic cooperation, particularly in technology.

The Beresheet 2 mission is coordinated by Israeli non-governmental organization SpaceIL which said in a statement that the agreement with the UAE “created a model for cooperation between the two peoples in many aspects — technological, scientific and educational — which will deepen the connection between the countries and serve as inspiration for further cooperation between Israel and other Arab countries.”

The deal will examine a number of cooperation avenues including with Abu Dhabi-based company Group 42 (G42), an artificial intelligence and cloud computing firm as well as an investor in the industry, according to the announcement.

Following a failed landing bid two years ago, SpaceIL revealed late last year that Beresheet 2 mission would aim to break several records in global space history, including a double landing on the Moon in a single mission by two of the smallest landing craft ever launched into space, each weighing 120 kilograms (265 pounds), half of which is fuel. The landers will launch on an orbiting spacecraft and then detach to take on the second part of their missions. One of the landers will attempt to touch down on the far side of the Moon, which only China has accomplished to date, and the second spacecraft is scheduled to land at an as-yet-undetermined site on the Moon.

The orbiting spacecraft, meanwhile, will remain in space for up to five years and serve as a platform for educational science activities in Israel and worldwide via a remote connection that will enable students in multiple countries to take part in deep-space scientific research, according to the organization.

A conceptual schematic for the Beresheet 2 lander, released to the media on December 9, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

In July, SpaceIL raised $70 million from investors for the Beresheet 2 mission, estimated at $100 million. The financing was raised from a group of entrepreneur-philanthropists, comprising Patrick Drahi, from the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation; South African billionaire Morris Kahn and the Kahn Foundation, which also backed the first Beresheet mission; and the Moshal Space Foundation, in partnership with Entrée Capital.

Kahn, who serves as SpaceIL’s chairman of the board of directors said in a statement Wednesday, “Over the past few months, we have forged a strong and strong relationship with senior UAE officials who seek to establish a deep relationship based on shared values ​​of education, technology and inspiration for the younger generations of the two peoples.”

“We are proud to be the first project to pave the way for further historic moves as a result of the Abraham Accords. We will be working on the details…which we will able to soon share with the public.”

A conceptual illustration for the Beresheet 2 mission, by SpaceIL. (SpaceIL)

SpaceIL CEO Shimon Sarid said the organization has “has committed itself to promoting science and scientific education at the regional and global levels, and in doing so, it will also contribute regional processes of normalization and peace through collaborations with peace-seeking…countries. We are pleased to cooperate with the United Arab Emirates Space Agency (UAESA) together with the [Israeli] Ministry of Science and Technology and the Israel Space Agency.”

The UAE has its own successful space program, launching the “Amal,” or “Hope,” space probe to Mars earlier this year.

Emirati men watch the launch of the “Amal” or “Hope” space probe at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, July 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The signing of the agreements came a day after UAE Ambassador to Israel Muhammad Mahmoud Al Khajah invited Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Abu Dhabi for an official state visit, on behalf of UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The invitation was extended during a lunch meeting Bennett held with Khajah and Bahrain Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousif al-Jalahma.

The three discussed expanding ties between the nations and further strengthening the Abraham Accords.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held a Zoom meeting late Monday with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, US Secretary of State State Antony Blinken, and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

The four top diplomats discussed “expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, adding that they also discussed expanding scientific cooperation and combating COVID.

Lapid visited the UAE in June, officially opening Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi, the first official visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf state. In September, Lapid opened Israel’s embassy in Manama, Bahrain, and signed a series of agreements. Israel’s top diplomat opened a mission in Morocco in August.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report

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