SpaceX Launches Multi-Pronged Mission, Including Israeli Lunar Lander


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

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 mission was originally intended for Google's Lunar Xprize, a competition created to encourage privately funded groups to send robotic landers to the moon. Before it can complete its mission, however, the little lander must survive an arduous four-million-mile, seven-week journey through space. This will be the first attempt at a lunar landing by a private company, and it's also the first launch by an Israeli spacecraft.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle successfully delivered all vehicles into orbit, SpaceX reported later. Once landed, Beresheet's mission will be to transmit photo and videos of the surface, as well as to conduct scientific measurements.

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.

(An Indonesian communications satellite and a small payload for the U.S. Air Force were also nestled inside the Falcon 9's payload fairing.) "We knew we didn't have a Saturn V [to get to the moon], so we're using SpaceX", Yigal Harel, head of SpaceIL's spacecraft program, said during a pre-launch news conference on Wednesday night.

Beresheet also will carry a capsule with information on Israel and the Jewish people, and a complete Bible inscribed on a coin the size of a USA quarter. The Beresheet was launched for Israel and if successful will make Israel the fourth country to land on the moon. The moon doesn't have a global magnetic field like Earth does, but specific regions and rocks are magnetized, as previous lunar expeditions have found. Mare Serenitatis is one of these regions, and Beresheet aims to collect more data about it. NASA and SpaceIL will share that data, as part of their flight support agreement.

The spacecraft will slingshot around Earth for about six weeks, firing thrusters to stretch out its orbit with every pass until it can be captured by the moon's gravity.

"Beresheet" will circumnavigate the earth repeatedly in order to pick up speed before it zooms toward the moon, where it is expected to land on April 11.

If the mission succeeds, it could unlock information the moon's iron core. Data will be relayed via the USA space agency NASA's Deep Space Network to SpaceIL's Israel-based ground station Yehud.

Lunar surface operations are meant to last just two days.

While the lander is a SpaceIL creation, NASA is still involved in the project.