Israel's first lunar lander launched into space from Florida

Theresa Obrien
February 23, 2019

The spacecraft - called Beresheet, Hebrew for Genesis or "In The Beginning" - will take almost two months to reach the moon.

Israelis swelled with pride overnight as many woke in the predawn hours to watch the Beresheet lunar spacecraft lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop a SpaceX rocket.

The static fire test for the launch was completed on Monday with the first launch window opening on Thursday, there was a backup window scheduled for Friday just in case the first launch had to be scrubbed.

It is also carrying an Indonesian telecommunications satellite and an experimental US Air Force satellite.

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.

Should it successfully land, Israel will join an elite company of nations who have put landers on the moon, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and the Peoples Republic of China.

"For many months, our teams and IAI's were engaged in testing the spacecraft and its systems, conducting complex experiments and preparing for every possible scenario of the mission", CEO of SpaceIL Ido Antebi said.

It will eventually be captured by the moon's gravity where it will enter a lunar orbit. This is a historic step for all nations and commercial space as we look to extend our collaborations beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon.

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It will use that time to measure the moon's magnetic field as it approaches for landing, which could shed light on the moon's core that's believed to be made of iron.

But before it can land, Beresheet must make it to the moon, and its six-week jaunt around the Earth may seem like an odd approach. It is also the first private rather than government effort with funds coming from private donors including Morris Kahn and Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. After all, the Apollo missions flew directly to the moon, landing less than a week after launch.

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).

First Beresheet will orbit the Earth for not quite two months.

Beresheet is created to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon's magnetic field.

If successful, Israel will be the fourth country to achieve a controlled touchdown on the moon's surface. This is what makes NASA's offer to track the spacecraft with its Deep Space Network and lunar orbiters so valuable.

The moon lander is one part of a trio of spacecrafts attached to the Falcon 9.

SpaceIL had planned to meet the 500-meter movement requirement by partially launching and relanding Beresheet.

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