SpaceX is rocketing the first private mission to the moon tonight

Cristina Cross
February 22, 2019

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.

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. The spacecraft - called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis or "In The Beginning" - will take almost two months to reach the moon. 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.

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. Space Systems Loral took on that responsibility, signing up rideshare broker Spaceflight Inc. of Seattle, Washington, which then secured Israel's 600-kilogram Beresheet lander and the Air Force Research laboratory's 60-kilogram S5 smallsat.

The payload also includes an Indonesian communications satellite called Nusantara Satu and a small experimental satellite belonging to the U.S. Air Force.

For this launch, SpaceX plans to reuse a rocket booster that's already flown twice.

Israel's first space mission is on its way to the moon!

Beresheet will stay on the moon until someday, perhaps, Israeli astronauts can retrieve it.

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Beresheet lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 3:45 time a.m. Israel time (8:45 p.m. Thursday EST), catching a ride on one of Elon Musk's SpaceX commercial space launches.

SpaceIL was originally building the Beresheet lander for the Google Lunar X Prize, but continued on with the lander after the contest ended in March 2018 without a victor for the $20 million award.

It was the third mission for the booster, which first flew in July with 10 Iridium Next communications satellites and again in October with a radar satellite for the Argentine space agency CONAE.

This marked the third landing for the same booster, which was previously used past year to launch a set of Iridium NEXT satellites and Argentina's SAOCOM 1A satellite. SpaceIL has also included a time capsule in the spacecraft packed with digital files that hold information about the spacecraft and a variety of Israeli memorabilia. "So we have to do it by commercial launch".

"Its mission is to transmit photos and video of its new home and conduct scientific measurements", SpaceX said of Beresheet. The spectacle drew cheers from mission control engineers.

The U.S. Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon - the only ones yet achieved - between 1969 and 1972, with about a dozen more robotic landings combined by the Americans and Soviets.

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