Israel Joins Race To Space: Liftoff Set For Thursday

24 February, 2019, 15:27 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • An artistic image of SpaceIL's Beresheet lander on the moon's surface

Israel's first spacecraft built to land on the moon was set for launch on Thursday from Florida on a mission that, if successful, would make the Jewish state only the fourth nation to achieve a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface.

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.

Israel would be the first country to completely fund such a project with private donations; the 5-foot tall spacecraft would be the smallest spacecraft to reach the moon, and the least expensive effort, at $100 million.

SpaceIL started as a Google Lunar XPrize team and is backed by South African billionaire Morris Kahn.

"Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the Moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government".

SpaceX set a company record previous year with 21 launches for customers including commercial satellite operators and the United States military, and Thursday's launch is its 70th total.

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's a first not just for Israel but for commercial space. The lander, whose name is Hebrew for "Genesis", began a two month journey to the moon using its own propulsion.

The Beresheet mission originally was part of the Google Lunar XPrize competition and even made the final cut before the contest ended previous year without a victor.

A historic Israeli moon mission appears to be going well so far, though one possible hiccup has cropped up.

The mission was originally intended for Google's Lunar Xprize, a competition created to encourage privately funded groups to send robotic landers to the moon. On Wednesday, SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Winetraub spoke of the affordable nature of the mission, saying, "This is Uber-style space exploration".

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.

"In religion and ethics, science and scholarship, we have long reached for the stars; now we are rightfully reaching the moon".

The New York Times stated that "Beresheet" is expected to land at a lava plain named Mare Serenitatis, where it will measure the moon's magnetic fields, offering an opportunity to study the moon's iron core.

Americans are the only ones to have walked on the lunar surface, but have not been there since 1972. Engineers say they won't make a decision until later in the mission.


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