US company plans to build ‘Genesis’ moon landers based on Beresheet technology

Firefly Aerospace, Inc signs intellectual agreement with Israel Aerospace Industries to build for-profit, rapid and affordable lunar missions based on the Israeli effort

The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon's surface, April 11, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)
The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon's surface, April 11, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

An American aerospace company hopes to build the next Beresheet spacecraft under the name “Genesis,” according to an intellectual agreement signed on Tuesday between Firefly Aerospace, Inc. and Israel Aerospace Industries.

The Beresheet spacecraft launched this past spring may not have landed successfully on the moon, but the technology that got it most of the way there on a shoestring budget piqued the interest many nascent commercial space companies.

Firefly Aerospace is one of the nine companies selected by NASA to participate in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to deliver cargo, including possible science experiments, to the surface of the moon.

The Texas-based company focuses on for-profit launches of small to medium objects, weighing between 1,000 kilograms to 4,000 kilograms. Beresheet weighed about 600 kilograms with fuel. The starting price for a Firefly launch is $15 million.

“The experience gained in the Beresheet Moon mission co-developed with SpaceIL puts IAI at the forefront of lunar lander technology and enables us to undertake additional lunar missions with proven technology and significant engineering experience and know-how,” said Boaz Levi, the executive vice president and general manager of the Systems, Missiles & Space Group at Israel Aerospace Industries. “We are proud to partner with Firefly Aerospace and offer NASA our experience in rapid and affordable lunar missions, including all lessons learned from the Beresheet endeavor.”

Engineers celebrate in the Beresheet control room in Yehud on April 4, 2019 after announcing the moon’s gravitation pull has most likely successfully captured the Beresheet spacecraft, the most complicated maneuver that the spacecraft has executed since its launch. (Eliran Avital/courtesy Beresheet)

“This agreement with IAI will allow Firefly to build on our momentum and expand our lunar capabilities by creating a US-built version of IAI’s historic lunar lander,”  said Firefly CEO Dr. Tom Markusic. The Intellectual Property and Engineering Support Agreement signed on Tuesday includes sharing both technology as well as expertise from Israel Aerospace Industries engineers who worked on the Beresheet project.

The relase did not say how much Firefly would be paying IAI for the technology.

Firefly’s American version of Beresheet will be built predominantly in the United States under the name “Genesis,” the English translation of Beresheet.

Beresheet lifted off on February 22 from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

During its two month, 6.5 million kilometer journey of increasingly larger elliptical orbits around the earth and then smaller orbits around the moon, Beresheet sent back many selfies and photos of the rarely-seen dark side of the moon.

Beresheet taking a “selfie” with the Earth at a distance of 265,000 kilometers above the planet’s surface in a photo released on March 24, 2019. (courtesy Beresheet)

The 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.

The spacecraft cost around $100 million (NIS 370 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.

Although the spacecraft lost communication and crashed just before landing on April 11, because the spacecraft did reach the moon’s surface, Israel became the 7th country to reach the moon and the first to do so as a private entity.

Beresheet on display before its launch, December 17, 2018. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

The United States, Russia (as the USSR), Japan, China, the European Space Agency and India have all made visits to the moon via probes, though only the US, Russia and China have successfully landed on the moon; other probes lost control and crashed into the surface.

Last month, the non-profit group SpaceIL, which oversaw the educational and public outreach aspect of the Beresheet project, announced they would not repeat an attempt to land on the moon. SpaceIL said in a statement that another lunar landing attempt would not be “challenging enough.”

“We will seek out another, significant objective for Beresheet 2.0,” SpaceIL wrote on Twitter. “Repeating the journey to the Moon that was already received as a successful, record-breaking journey- doesn’t feel that we are raising the bar to meet new challenges.”

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