Israel launches spacecraft in SpaceX’s first private mission to moon

Christopher Davidson
February 24, 2019

An unmanned rocket took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel's Beresheet spacecraft, aiming to make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first from the Jewish state. The $100 million mission is headed by SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization based in Israel.

The launch of Beresheet, which means "Genesis" or "In the beginning" in Hebrew, represents a significant milestone for both Israel and the private sector.

Its Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where a trio of spacecraft, including a moon lander, came along for the ride.

If the Israeli lander makes it to the moon, it will be the fourth nation to touch down on the natural satellite joining the US, Russia, and China.

SpaceIL's spacecraft set to land on the moon in April is about 5 feet tall with a diameter of 6.5 feet.

The landing sequence should take about 15 minutes - a delicate procedure that'll be monitored by a joint group from the Israel Space Agency, NASA and the Weizmann Institute of Science, reports The Jerusalem Post.

Piggybacking on the launch was the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 experimental small spacecraft, which will carry out a one-year mission tracking objects in geostationary orbit, and SpaceIL's lunar spacecraft, Beresheet. "It's the first time a small country has aimed to reach the moon and land safely".

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Should it successfully land, Israel will join an elite company of nations who have put landers on the moon, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and the Peoples Republic of China.

Beresheet's mission to the near-side of the moon after a 4 million mile journey through space.

During a mission slated to last just two to three days on the moon, Beresheet will use on board instruments to photograph the landing site on the Sea of Tranquility, SpaceIL vice-president Yigal Harel said. The prize expired past year without a victor, but SpaceIL (and several other former teams) kept working on their missions. SpaceX also launched and recovered its first-stage booster on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, despite what it called hard landing conditions.

Once launched, the spacecraft will enter a gradually widening Earth orbit that will eventually bring the probe within the moon's gravitational pull, setting the stage for a series of additional maneuvers leading to an automated touchdown.

The competition was canceled in January 2018 when none of the five teams left in the competition was able to meet the March deadline for a launch. 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.

Beresheet can not fly directly to the moon, SpaceIL officials have said. The agency thinks these 9 companies can get it to the lunar surface.

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