Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch Israeli spaceship to the moon

A Falcon 9 SpaceX heavy rocket lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral on February 6. (Terry Renna, AP)
A Falcon 9 SpaceX heavy rocket lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral on February 6. (Terry Renna, AP)

State-run Israel Aerospace Industries and non-profit SpaceIL announced plans to launch a lunar mission in December, putting Israel on track to become the fourth country to land on the moon.

The unmanned, $88m Israeli spacecraft will blast off on a Falcon 9 rocket made by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies.

At 600 kilograms, it will be the smallest spaceship so far to make a lunar landing. Its two-month journey will start from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

"I am filled with pride that the first Israeli spacecraft, which is in its final construction and testing phases, will soon be making its way to the moon," said Morris Kahn, SpaceIL president and a founder of Israeli communications and media technology developer Amdocs.

No government has landed a craft on the moon since the 1970s, but interest has revived recently. President Donald Trump has requested almost $900m in new funding for NASA moon missions.

China this year plans to land a probe on the unexplored dark side of the moon, where radio signals from Earth can’t be received.

Low cost

SpaceIL was formed by three people and participated in Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition, which closed in March without naming a winner. Its investors include Kahn, US casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and the Israel Space Agency.

A successful mission would be a significant achievement, giving scientists a relatively low-cost spacecraft for future experiments, said Tal Inbar, head of the Space & UAV Research Centre at The Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzilya, Israel.

Challenges must still be overcome, including compensating for the craft’s smaller fuel capacity, Inbar said. Unlike bigger spacecraft that took four days to reach the moon, the smaller fuel capacity means SpaceIL must take an indirect way, orbiting the Earth to reach the moon, SpaceIL said.

The SpaceIL craft is 1.5 metres high and two metres in diameter, able to reach a maximum speed of more than 10 kilometres per second. Fuel will comprise 75% of its weight, which will be 180 kilograms on landing, less than any previous craft that landed on the moon, the company said.

Civilian space

After landing, the craft will take photos and videos of the landing site and record the moon’s magnetic field.

"The State of Israel, which is already firmly planted in the realm of space in its military activity, must harness resources for the benefit of civilian space, which is an engine of innovation, technology and education around the world," IAI CEO Yossi Weiss said.

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