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Israel’s SpaceIL shoots for the Moon for a second time, raises $70 million

Beresheet 2 mission hopes to launch in 2024 and will see double landing of two small crafts that will detach from mothership, one of them aiming for far side

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

The Beresheet selfie during landing, April 11, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)
The Beresheet selfie during landing, April 11, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

SpaceIL, the organization whose Beresheet spacecraft crashed onto the moon’s surface two years ago in a failed landing bid, said Sunday it has raised $70 million from investors for a second mission to the lunar surface, to launch in 2024.

The financing was raised from a group of entrepreneur-philanthropists, comprising Patrick Drahi, from the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation; Morris Kahn and the Kahn Foundation, which also backed the first Beresheet mission; and the Moshal Space Foundation, in partnership with Entrée Capital.

The funding increases the probability of meeting the 2024 launch timetable, SpaceIL said in a statement. The total cost of the mission is estimated at $100 million, the startup said.

The “Beresheet2” mission plans to break several records in global space history, the company said, 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.

As part of the mission, a mothership will be launched into space, from which the two landers will detach. One of them aims to land on the far side of the Moon, which only China has accomplished to date, the statement said. The second craft is scheduled to land at an as-yet undetermined site on the Moon.

The mothership, meanwhile, will remain in space for 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, the statement said.

The first Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the moon’s surface in April 2019 during its attempt to land on Earth’s satellite, dashing the hopes of hundreds of engineers who had worked on the project for years.

The spacecraft successfully initiated the landing sequence, but a few kilometers above the moon’s surface the main engine failed, meaning the spacecraft could not properly brake in time to cushion its landing.

The first spacecraft was budgeted at $100 million, a fraction of the cost of vehicles launched to the moon by major powers US, Russia and China in the past. It was a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists, including South African billionaire Morris Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Lynn Schusterman, and others.

The SpaceIL project launched as Israel’s entry into the Google LunarX challenge for nongovernmental groups to land a spacecraft on the moon. Google ended the contest in 2018 with no winners, but the Israeli team decided to continue its efforts privately.

Upon completion of the financing round for Beresheet 2, a new board of directors was appointed for the organization, which includes the representatives of the new donors. Morris Kahn was appointed as chairman of the board of directors alongside new directors Angelina Drahi, chairwoman of the Patrick and Lina Drahi Foundation; Amalia Zarka, general manager of the Drahi Philanthropic Foundation; Tal Granot-Goldstein, CEO of HOT Group; Frank Melloul, CEO of i24news; Aviad Eyal, managing partner of Entrée Capital and the representative of the Moshal Space Foundation; and Dafna Jackson, CEO of the Kahn family office. They will be joining the existing board members, including Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, Avi Hasson, Arie Halsband and Ya’acov Levy.

“The Beresheet project is my life’s mission, so I decided to take it up again,” said Kahn. “I plan to do everything that is within my power to take Israel back to the Moon, this time for a historic double landing. As an entrepreneur, I believe that one should constantly seek new challenges and even double the risk. Our upcoming new mission will position Israel once more as a global pioneer, this time in space.”

SpaceIL, founded by Yariv Bash, Yonatan Winetraub, and Kfir Damari, is a nonprofit organization that strives to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and dreamers through innovative space missions. The organization has hundreds of volunteers and in several years of operation has managed to reach more than two million children, the company said in the statement.

“We are delighted to be taking part in this historic project, which will enhance Israel’s position as an international arena player and inspire youth around the globe,” said Angelina Drahi. “The Drahi Foundation aims to promote innovation and entrepreneurship, alongside science education, to position Israel as an international powerhouse in those fields.”

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