Israeli moon lander launched by SpaceX expected to land in April

Muriel Hammond
February 23, 2019

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Thursday night carrying Israel's first lunar lander on a mission that if successful will make the Jewish state only the fourth nation to ever to achieve a controlled touchdown on the moon's surface. Funded by the Israeli company SpaceIL, the unmanned, 1,300 pound craft, called "Beresheet", which is the first word in the Bible and means "In the beginning", rocketed into space from Florida's Cape Canaveral.

That touchdown try won't take place until April 11.

Israel-based organization SpaceIL had its lander, Beresheet, launched successfully at 8:45 p.m. on February 21, starting its 40-day journey to the moon.

"Initial data was received in the control room in Yehud [Israel], the spacecraft's legs deployed as planned and Beresheet started in-orbit tests while cruising to the moon", Nimrod Sheffer, CEO of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), said in a statement.

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

The Israeli team said glare from the sun on the spacecraft's sensors was making it more hard than expected for the spacecraft to orient itself according to the position of the stars as it prepared for its first orbit around the Earth, the first stage of its slow seven-week journey to the moon. The craft went up Thursday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying a triple payload.

A communications satellite for Indonesia is the main cargo.

After that, it will take a month to reach an orbit 250 miles from Earth, and then continue to circle farther out until it is captured into a lunar orbit. Data will be relayed via the USA space agency NASA's Deep Space Network to SpaceIL's Israel-based ground station Yehud.

If the Israeli lander makes it to the moon, it will be the fourth nation to touch down on the natural satellite joining the US, Russia, and China.

S5, built by Blue Canyon Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, is created to study the space environment, evaluating if low-priced satellites can improve knowledge of objects in geostationary orbit 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. The spacecraft also has a scientific mission: to measure the moon's magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute.

The total cost of one of its Falcon 9 launches is estimated to reach £44 million ($61m), while each of its larger Falcon Heavy flights costs £65 million ($90m). It is also the first private rather than government effort with funds coming from private donors including Morris Kahn and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. The prize expired previous year without a victor, but SpaceIL (and several other former teams) kept working on their missions.

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