Israel’s privately-built Beresheet lunar lander has entered space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The launch from Cape Canaveral Florida was successful and the lunar lander is scheduled to reach the Moon on April 11. The four-legged lunar lander is Israel’s first attempt to land on the Moon.
Beresheet’s route to the Moon is more convoluted than is typical for a lunar lander. To save on fuel, the spacecraft will orbit around Earth in increasingly large circles until it is close enough to the Moon for its gravitational pull to capture the craft. The landing sequence will be monitored by participants from the Israel Space Agency, NASA, and the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Beresheet, which means “Genesis” or “In the beginning” in Hebrew, was originally designed to compete for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize, which officially ended on January 23, 2018 with no winner. The lunar lander’s mission is to transmit photos and videos of the Moon back to Earth over the few days it is expected to survive the temperature extremes on the Moon’s surface. The lander also contains hundreds of digital files, including artwork, the Torah, the Israeli flag, and an archive containing 30 million pages of information, that will remain on the surface.
If the lander lands successfully in April, Israel will join an exclusive club that only contains three other members. To date, only the United States, Russia, and China have successfully placed a lander on the Moon. It will also be a significant milestone for the private space travel industry as the first privately-funded lunar lander. The spacecraft was designed by SpaceIL, an Israeli not-for-profit financed by donations from individual private sponsors.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the lunar lander also delivered an S5 experimental smallsat owned by the U.S. Air Force and the Indonesian Nusantara Satu telecommunications satellite into space. It was the third successful trip for the first stage booster of the rocket, which landed successfully on a drone ship positioned in the Atlantic Ocean. The first stage booster of the rocket is scheduled to be used again during a launch in April.