SpaceX launches Israeli lunar lander along with high-flying satellites


If all goes according to plan for Beresheet, the lander will arrive on the near-side of the moon in mid-April following a two-month journey through 6.5 million km of space.

SpaceX is targeting Thursday, February 21 for launch of the Nusantara Satu satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It's set to be the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon. SpaceIL and IAI are attempting a major space milestone: Israel hasn't landed a lunar lander on the moon's surface before, so this mission will be a first for the nation. Also onboard the Falcon 9 is the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 spacecraft developed and integrated by Blue Canyon Technologies, which will carry out a one-year mission.

The unmanned robotic lander dubbed Beresheet - Hebrew for the biblical phrase "in the beginning" - was due for liftoff at 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT Friday) atop a Falcon 9 rocket launched by California-based entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX company from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After deploying its two payloads into orbit, the Falcon 9's first stage returned to Earth and aced a landing (the third for this booster) on SpaceX's drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You", which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Beresheet was one of three payloads to be carried aloft by the SpaceX rocket. The Seattle launch services company has negotiated the launch of more than 200 satellites, but previous missions had gone no higher than low Earth orbit.

Beresheet will stay on the moon until someday, perhaps, Israeli astronauts can retrieve it. The proportion of flight-proven to new booster launches is likely to continue to grow in 2019, ultimately reaching a point where new boosters are limited to inaugural hardware debuts or specific contractual requests from conservative United States government customers.

Musk added that SpaceX will use the booster for a fourth time in April for the Crew Dragon in-flight abort test.

If the mission succeeds, it could unlock information the moon's iron core.

SpaceIL's mission for the lander is to beam back photos and video, and to measure the magnetosphere. It will be the first such space capsule to land on the moon on a private initiative rather than on a government-funded enterprise.

Nusantara Satu is a 4,100-kilogram communications satellite equipped with C- and Ku-band transponders, mainly for broadband connectivity. While Musk has cornered the market on commercial rocket launches, SpaceIL and IAI are hoping to find a niche in cheap moon landings, so space agencies or, one day, private individuals or organizations, could send cameras and research equipment to the moon for their own purposes. But the group behind SpaceIL chose to continue its mission, turning to donors to help fund the barebones operation.