Israel's first mission to moon blasts off from Florida

James Marshall
February 22, 2019

Entrepreneurs, not government space agencies, financed the mission, which was initially projected at $10 million but eventually grew to $100 million. During that time, it will study the moon's magnetic fields and take photos of the lunar surface - along with some out-of-this-world selfies, Yigal Harel, head of the SpaceIL Spacecraft Program, said in the briefing.

Just minutes after blastoff, the Falcon 9's nine-engine suborbital main-stage booster separated from the upper stage, flew back to Earth and landed safely on a drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean more than 300 miles (483 km) off the Florida coast.

If the moon mission's launch and landing succeeds, Israel will enter history as the fourth country ever to set down a spacecraft on the surface of the moon.

Regardless of the competition, though, SpaceIL announced that it remained committed to continuing and completing its mission to land on the moon and advance science and technology education in Israel. Once it lands, the probe will conduct various experiments on the Moon's surface, testing its magnetism and geology.

In a tweet, the company said simply: "Liftoff!" The organization was founded by three engineers: Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Winetraub, who answered the worldwide challenge presented by Google Lunar XPRIZE: to build, launch and land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.

If successful, Beresheet will end up as the prototype for a series of future moon landing missions planned jointly by IAI and Germany's OHB System on behalf of the European Space Agency.

They founded SpaceIL in 2011 and, in 2015, scored a launch contract with SpaceX.

Once Beresheet's two days are up, the dead spacecraft won't be entirely useless. Data will be relayed via the US space agency NASA's Deep Space Network to SpaceIL's Israel-based ground station Yehud.

Read our full coverage of SpaceIL's unprecedented mission to land on the moon.

The retroreflector is not the only payload on board Beresheet that is created to stand the test of time. The library contains "millions of documents from all around the world, different dictionaries [and] encyclopedias" on three laser-etched coins each about the size of a nickel, Winetraub said.

The unmanned robotic lander dubbed Beresheet - Hebrew for the biblical phrase "in the beginning" - soared into space from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at about 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT Friday) atop the 23-story-tall rocket. After SpaceX launches the craft into orbit, it will travel to the moon over the course of the next two months or so.

Falcon 9 will also deliver the Beresheet lunar spacecraft and Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) S5 spacecraft to orbit.

The primary payload aboard the Falcon 9 rocket was an Indonesian communications satellite known as Nusantara Satu and operated by Pasifik Satelit Nusantara.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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