SpaceX Launches 1st Private Moon Lander for Israel, Sticks Rocket Landing

Pablo Tucker
February 22, 2019

Beresheet it is scheduled to launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station 8:45 p.m. EST and expected to land on the lunar surface on April 11.

Israel's first spacecraft built to land on the moon was set for launch on Thursday from Florida on a mission that, if successful, would make the Jewish state only the fourth nation to achieve a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface.

About 30 minutes after liftoff, the spacecraft will disengage from the SpaceX Falcon 9 at around 60,000 kilometers above Earth's surface, beginning, under its own power, a two-month voyage to the Moon's surface.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Israeli startup SpaceIL partnering with SpaceX to launch the first private lunar lander to the Moon and China's lunar lander on the far side of the moon.

SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Weintraub told Fox News in a statement, "After more than eight years of working with brilliant engineers, we are finally ready to launch our spacecraft to the Moon!"

For this launch, SpaceX plans to reuse a rocket booster that's already flown twice. Beresheet took off from from Cape Canaveral on one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets at 8:45 Eastern time tonight.

Combined with Musk's apparent belief that B1048 - having just experienced what he described as the "highest reentry heating to date" - could be ready to launch again as few as 40-70 days from now, this successful launch and landing of a flight-proven Falcon 9 booster (the second time a SpaceX rocket as flown for the third time) suggests that the Block 5 upgrade continues to operate nominally.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the booster could fly again as early as April in support of Crew Dragon's in-flight abort mission, although his implication that that test will occur in April directly contradicts a recent NASA schedule update that pegged the test no earlier than (NET) June 2019. 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. A company representative declined to comment on SpaceIL's mission ahead of launch, but noted that the "webcast will have more to say on the mission".

Although the primary payload for this mission was Indonesia's satellite, named Nusantara Satu, the tiny moon lander that hitched a ride with the satellite as a secondary payload stole the show today. The satellite, built by SSL for Asian telecommunications company PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), will be used to hopefully improve internet connectivity across the Indonesian archipelago.

Space travel is going the way of Uber and the sharing economy, with global space agencies looking to cut costs by using "ride shares" to hitchhike into space on existing commercial launches.

SpaceIL's mission for the lander is to beam back photos and video, and to measure the magnetosphere. Data will be relayed via the USA space agency NASA's Deep Space Network to SpaceIL's Israel-based ground station Yehud.

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