Published: Sun, February 24, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Israel launches spacecraft in SpaceX’s first private mission to moon

Israel launches spacecraft in SpaceX’s first private mission to moon

"This is the first mission of a small country to the moon", and a non-governmental effort at that, SpaceIL Chief Executive Officer Ido Anteby told reporters near Tel Aviv. The lander will use a thruster from Norwegian supplier Nammo to reach the moon, and to conduct a 500-meter "hop" to another location on the lunar surface.

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

The craft was developed by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL as well as the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries. The Falcon 9 launch vehicle successfully delivered all vehicles into orbit, SpaceX reported later.

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 objective in the 1960s and early '70s.

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?

Beresheet also carries a time capsule that contains, among other items, a "lunar library" provided by the Arch Mission Foundation, which seeks to preserve human knowledge for eons by storing it in various off-Earth locales.

Beresheet is due to arrive on the near side of the moon in April following a two-month, 6.5 million-kilometre journey.

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The competition was canceled in January 2018 when none of the five teams left in the competition was able to meet the March deadline for a launch. It will eventually be captured by the moon's gravity where it will enter a lunar orbit. "Make us proud", he said on Thursday.

The US Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon - the only ones yet achieved - between 1969 and 1972.

SpaceIL's mission for the lander is to beam back photos and video, and to measure the magnetosphere.

The SpaceIL strategy of gradually raising Beresheet's orbit around Earth, however, helps to keep the lander's price tag low.

NASA, which has installed equipment on Beresheet to upload its signals from the Moon, said last week it aims to land instruments later this year or next year and that it is inviting private sector bids to build and launch the U.S. probes. Beresheet is only expected to survive on the lunar surface for about two or three days.

A decision to make the lunar hop won't be made until after the landing in April, but there's really nothing to gain from such a manoeuvre - one that could unnecessarily damage the probe. Up to this point, the moon has been a destination that only wealthy and powerful nations could reach.

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