March 24, 2019

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

22 February 2019, 08:09 | Edward Lowe

Israel will launch its spacecraft dubbed "Beresheet", or "beginning" in Hebrew, in the nation's first mission to land on the Moon's surface.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying an Indonesian communications satellite, an Israeli lunar lander and a U.S. Air Force smallsat launched February 21 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If the mission succeeds, it could unlock information the moon's iron core. The first soft landing on the moon came in 1966; executed by both the both Russian Federation and the United States; there was not another unmanned soft landing until China launched Chang'e 3 in 2013.

The mission is part of renewed global interest in the Moon, sometimes called the "eighth continent" of the Earth, and comes 50 years after American astronauts first walked on the lunar surface.

"Israel is a very small country, as small as New Jersey, and we're shooting for the moon, SpaceIL manager of the Beresheet program Yigal Harel said".

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The Israeli craft was placed in Earth orbit, from where it will use its own engine to undertake a seven-week trip to reach the Moon and touch down on April 11 in a large plain. If successful, it would be the world's first private lunar landing.

At the end of its brief mission, mission controllers plan to simply shut down the spacecraft, according to SpaceIL officials, leaving Beresheet as the latest piece of human hardware to litter the lunar landscape.

Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL's Beresheet lander separated 33 minutes after liftoff.

The strategy is cost-effective, helping keep Beresheet's total price tag, including launch, at about $100 million - quite low for a mission to another world. The 1,290-pound (585-kg) spacecraft was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and state-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) with $100 million furnished nearly entirely by private donors.

Bad weather threatened the recovery of the first-stage booster, but after 8-and-a-half minutes following launch, the booster successfully landed on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

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The two other payloads set for deployment are a telecommunications satellite for Indonesia and an experimental satellite for the U.S. Air Force.

Beresheet is created to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon's magnetic field. This is what makes NASA's offer to track the spacecraft with its Deep Space Network and lunar orbiters so valuable.

They founded SpaceIL in 2011 and, in 2015, scored a launch contract with SpaceX.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted after the landing that the booster survived the "Highest reentry heating to date".

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