Published: Sun, February 24, 2019
Research | By Wilma Wheeler

SpaceX Just Launched Israel's Lunar Lander off to the Moon

SpaceX Just Launched Israel's Lunar Lander off to the Moon

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Israel's first spacecraft created to land on the moon lifts off on the first privately-funded lunar mission at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 21, 2019.

Israel seeks to become only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, after Russian Federation, the US and China. Beresheet, the Hebrew word for "in the beginning", was designed by the nonprofit SpaceIL, a team of engineers who began the project for the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which challenged participants to build, launch and land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.

Beresheet is slated to reach its destination on the near-side of the moon in mid-April following a two-month journey through 4 million miles (6.5 million kilometers) of space. Created to radically improve the ease and speed of Falcon 9 booster reuse, Block 5 debuted in May 2018 and has now launched 12 times, with half of those missions flying on flight-proven boosters. If succeeded, Beresheet would be the first privately-funded spacecraft to make the moon landing.

The 23-story Falcon 9 rocket lifted off on time at 8:45 p.m. ET, despite warnings. It was the third mission for the booster, which first flew in July with 10 Iridium Next communications satellites and again in October with a radar satellite for the Argentine space agency CONAE.

To date, only three nations have landed on the moon: the United States, Russia and China.

Japan plans to send a small lunar lander, called SLIM, to study a volcanic area around 2020-2021. Beresheet was supposed to achieve this by taking off and landing again nearby, but as the NYT pointed out, mission planners are no longer bound by this requirement.

The 585-kilogram, dishwasher-sized lander was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and state-owned defence contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) with $US100 million furnished nearly entirely by private donors. It is also the first private rather than government effort with funds coming from private donors including Morris Kahn and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

The determination of SpaceIL has finally put into fruition, as SpaceIL have been working on robotics and spacecraft for the last decade, hoping to land a spacecraft on the moon. A time capsule is aboard the lander - which includes a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died aboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003 - as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the USA -based Arch Mission Foundation. He spoke at a news conference last night and explained the significance of Israel coming a little closer to becoming the fourth nation to ever make it to the moon.

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