SpaceX rocket blasts off carrying Israeli lunar lander

23 February, 2019, 20:40 | Author: Kelly Sanders
  • On the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport the shipping container holding SpaceIL's Beresheet Lander awaits being loaded into the readied cargo plane

The Falcon 9 rocket will thrust Beresheet into a "long and complex" Earth orbit where it will spend roughly five weeks gradually widening its orbit until it is close enough to enter the moon's gravitational field.

The Beresheet robotic lunar lander-created by the nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel's largest aerospace and defense company -would be the first privately built spacecraft to reach the moon.

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.

A Falcon 9 rocket carrying an Israeli rover is expected to reach the moon sometime in April.

SpaceIL has no plans for future explorations of its own beyond Beresheet and "will not continue after this mission", Harel said.

"This is history in the making - and it's live!" 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.

It was backed notably by businessman and philanthropist Morris Kahn, who financed the development of a craft.

"The problem with that is, it doesn't allow us to choose the orbit completely", says Yonathan Winetraub, one of the founders of SpaceIL.

"This is a big step for Israel, but a giant step for Israeli technology", he said.

So far, only Russian Federation, the U.S. and China have made the 239,000-mile journey to Earth's giant, dusty satellite.


The investor said the mission was designed " to show that Israel, which is a tiny country with 6-8 million people, could really do the work that was done only by three major world powers: Russia, China, and the United States.

The spacecraft will also plop the Israeli flag on the lunar surface and take some snaps before the mission ends two days later. The choice is purely economic but aims to further the success of the mission by lightening the load of the rocket.

As seen from the launch site, the distant glow of the returning booster rocket was visible in the sky just as the moon appeared over the horizon.

The Beresheet mission will only last for a few days, as the lunar lander won't be able to withstand the temperature extremes on the surface.

The spacecraft carries a "time capsule" - a huge database of hundreds of digital files ranging from details about the NGO, the spacecraft and the crew of the project, national symbols, cultural items and materials collected from the general public over the years to be placed on the moon by the spacecraft.

After China earlier this year, and now Israel, India hopes to become the fifth lunar country in the spring with its Chandrayaan-2 mission.

These were "hard landings", meaning the craft crashed into the moon.

As for the Americans, a return to the Moon is now the official policy of NASA, according to guidelines issued by President in 2017.

"This time, when we go to the Moon, we're actually going to stay", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said last week. To achieve this, the U.S. space agency is changing its model and no longer wants to design the missions itself.

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.

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