Israeli spacecraft set for historic moon landing in coming months

An Israeli non-profit affiliated with the local hi-tech and research communities is planning to launch a spacecraft to the moon as an educational endeavor. 

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News 

The SpaceIL organization announced Tuesday that it will be sending a small, unmanned spacecraft to the moon in December, with an expected landing date of February 13, 2019.

It will be launched on a SpaceX missile from Cape Canaveral, Florida, which will release its history-making cargo 60,000 kilometers from the moon. The spaceship will go around the Earth in an ever-widening, elliptical orbit that will eventually enable it to cross paths with the moon.

At that point, it is supposed to fire its engines in order to slow down and get into a lunar orbit, eventually landing gently on the rocky surface.

“It’s a small, smart spaceship,” said SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby. “It’s a meter and a half by two meters, and will  weigh 600 kg. at takeoff. Most of its weight is fuel, and when it lands it will [only] weigh 180 kg. It will be in contact with ground stations all over the world; we’ll be in radio contact with it throughout its trip.”

Its first task will be to plant an Israeli flag on the surface and then take still pictures and video. It is expected that the “mission” will wrap up in a mere two days.

Established in 2010 by three Israeli engineers, the nonprofit organization started building the four-legged machine about two years later. They were attempting to win the $20 million Google Lunar X competition for a non-government to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon, take pictures and video, and travel 500 meters on, above or below the surface. In the event, they reached the finals, but at the end there was no winner as none had met the requirements and deadline in time – but they decided to “go for it” anyway.

The organization’s aim, besides making history by landing its craft, is “to inspire a generation along the way,” as noted on its website. They describe it as “a national mission” to use their story to create an “educational impact,” not only for Israeli schoolchildren but for students everywhere. To date, 50,000 children have been reached by SpaceIL volunteers in classrooms around the world.

Only 3 countries have landed spacecraft on moon

The work has been funded by philanthropists, but it is also supported by the Israel Space Agency and major hi-tech corporations such as Elbit, Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries. It is also supported by educational institutions such as the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Weizmann Institute of Science, and Tel Aviv University. Last December, the Israeli team estimated that the total cost of the mission was $85 million.

“It should be noted that only three countries have so far landed spacecraft on the moon – the United States, Russia and China – and all three have done so with tremendous financial investment and with the participation of thousands of engineers,” said venture capitalist Maurice Kahn, a major contributor and for years the chairman of the SpaceIL board.

“We are making history, and when we do that, we will be very proud, and that is the pride that we need in the country. We will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon,” he said.

To date, the Us remains  the only country to have successfully conducted manned missions to the moon, with the last departing the lunar surface in December 1972.