Published: Fri, February 22, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SpaceX launches the first private moon lander on Israel's behalf

SpaceX launches the first private moon lander on Israel's behalf

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel's first lunar lander.

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. It will also bring a time capsule to the Moon, including the Israeli flag, the country's national anthem, "Hatikvah", dictionaries in 27 languages, the Bible, and a children's book about the mission.

If all goes according to plan, Beresheet, about the size of a dishwasher, will arrive on the near-side of the moon in mid-April following a two-month journey through 4 million miles (6.5 million km) of space.

Nusantara Satru and S5 will head to geosynchronous orbit before parting ways, while Beresheet conducts a series of phasing loops to raise its orbit until the spacecraft is captured by lunar gravity.

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 said it hoped Beresheet would help inspire Israel's defence-focused space program to pursue more science missions by way of an "Apollo effect", referring to the manned lunar exploration program that became NASA's chief goal in the 1960s and early '70s. SpaceIL co-founder Kfir Damari said, "It is rocket science, but our goal is to show them that it's not magic - it's something they can understand".

Just minutes after blasting off, the Falcon 9's nine-engine suborbital main-stage booster rocket could be seen in the sky just as the moon appeared over the horizon.

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The third payload is an experimental small spacecraft from Air Force Research Laboratory for a one-year mission.

US satellite manufacturer Space Systems Loral, a Maxar company, purchased the Falcon 9 launch on behalf of its customer Pasifik Satelit Nusantara, or PSN.

Lunar surface operations are meant to last just two days.

The launch was SpaceX's second of the year, following a January launch for low-Earth-orbit satellite operator Iridium. This is what makes NASA's offer to track the spacecraft with its Deep Space Network and lunar orbiters so valuable.

As one of the commenters on a YouTube clip of the launch noted, look how much tiny, resource-strained Israel has managed to achieve in the short 70 years of its modern existence?

Following stage separation, SpaceX will attempt to land Falcon 9's first stage on the "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

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