Israel To Launch First Moon Mission This Year

The SpaceIL moon landing craft

An Israeli organisation announced plans Tuesday to launch the country's first spacecraft to the moon in December, with hopes of burnishing Israel's reputation as a small nation with otherworldly high-tech ambitions.

If successful, SpaceIL's $95 million project, funded largely by billionaire Morris Kahn, will become the first private enterprise endeavor to match the Moon exploration achievements of Russian Federation, the United States and China.

While famed entrepreneur Elon Musk sent one of his Tesla cars into space last year on top of his SpaceX rocket, this year, Musk will help deliver Israel's first unmanned lunar spacecraft atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, where it will assume a course that will take it to its final destination: the moon.

Although this is an historic national achievement, it is essentially a private initiative by the three SpaceIL founders - Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub - who strived to fulfill the dream of reaching the moon, and registered for the challenging Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.

Josef Weiss, IAI CEO said, "As one who has personally brought the collaboration with SpaceIL to IAI, I regard the launch of the first Israeli spacecraft to the moon as an example of the incredible capabilities one can reach in civilian-space activity". The launch date is set for December; two months later, on February 13, the spacecraft is expected to land on the moon. The measurements are intended for research conducted at the Weizmann Institute of Science-UCLA.

The IAI-built spacecraft, which was build in 2013, will be transferred to the United States in November, ahead of the launch.

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SpaceIL's spacecraft is not only small-it measures 2 meters-by-1.5 meters and weighs 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds)-but also significantly less expensive than those usually launched into deep space.

Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, told a news conference in the Israeli town of Yehud on Tuesday that its probe would be the smallest yet to land on the Moon. Its maximum speed will reach more than 10 km per second (36,000 kilometers, or almost 22,370 miles, per hour). It will be the secondary payload, launched with other satellites.

Its first task however will be to plant an Israeli flag on the moon, organizers said. The data will be transmitted to the IAI control room during the two days following the landing.

Construction of the spacecraft began two years later in facilities provided by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd.

The March deadline for that prize has long since passed, but the Israeli companies are using that momentum to try to bring about this project. More than 400kg of that weight is fuel that will be burnt off by the time it lands on the Moon. The non-profit aims to change the discourse in Israel and to encourage boys and girls to regard science, engineering, technology and math as exciting opportunities for their future.

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