Israel to launch its first spacecraft to the moon

Christopher Davidson
July 11, 2018

South African-Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, president of SpaceIL, who has donated $27 million to the enterprise, was extremely excited: "The launch of the first Israeli spacecraft will fill Israel, in its 70th year, with pride". "When the rocket is launched into space, we will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon".

SpaceIL and the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries plan to launch their unmanned craft in December, the team said at a press conference at an IAI facility outside Tel Aviv.

SpaceIL is backed mainly by private donors, including US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and billionaire Morris Kahn who co-founded Amdocs, one of Israel's biggest high-tech companies.

SpaceIL explained: "While the other Google Lunar X Prize teams developed large rovers to move the required 500 meters on the Moon's surface, in order to conserve mass, SpaceIL developed the idea of a space hop: to have the spacecraft land and then take off again with the fuel left in its propulsion system, and then perform another landing 500 meters away". The people at SpaceIL aren't letting that stop them from completing the lunar journey.

The overall cost of the project is estimated to be around $95 million.

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The craft, which is shaped like a round table with four carbon fiber legs, is set to blast off in December from Florida's Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, said Ido Anteby, chief executive of the SpaceIL non-profit.

The dainty spacecraft is just about 5 feet (1.5 meters) high and weighs 1,322 pounds (600 kilograms).

An Israeli organization said Tuesday that it hopes to become the first non-governmental entity to land a spacecraft on the moon when it attempts to launch a module later this year.

Despite financial pitfalls in recent years that almost saw SpaceIL's spacecraft grounded permanently, the team is confident that December's launch will take place on time. In May, China launched a relay satellite that will orbit the moon and allow it to receive signals from a planned probe that will land on the far side of the moon. It will also measure the moon's magnetic field at the landing site using a magnetometer.

Along with Kahn, the Israeli Space Agency and US megadonor casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson are funding SpaceIL.

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