Israeli Lunar Landing Mission Set to Launch Aboard SpaceX Falcon 9

SpaceIL, a non-profit team from the defunct Google Lunar X Prize competition, will launch its Beresheet lunar lander to the moon this evening aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It will be the first privately funded lunar mission.

Beresheet, which is Hebrew for “Genesis” or “in the beginning,” is being launched as a secondary payload on a voyage that will take nearly two months. The 32-minute launch window opens at 8:45 p.m. EST, or 1:45 UTC on February 22. The launch will be webcast at www.spacex.com.

Beresheet is scheduled to land on the lunar surface on April 11. The smallest spacecraft ever launched to the moon, Beresheet weighs in at only 600 kg (1,332 lbs).

Beresheet lander (Credit: SpaceIL)

The $100 million spacecraft will send back video and use a magnetometer to measure the magnetic field on and above the surface. Beresheet, which was built by Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), is expected to only survive the lunar heat for a few days because it lacks the technology to allow it to survive extremes of temperatures.

Under an agreement signed with SpaceIL and IAI, NASA will have access to data gathered by the magnetometer. The instrument was developed in collaboration with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.

A NASA-supplied retro-reflector is installed aboard the spacecraft. The instrument will reflect laser beams and enable NASA to precisely located where Beresheet landed on the surface.

The lander is carrying a time capsule that consists of three discs with hundreds of digital files. The files include:

  • details about the spacecraft and the crew building it;
  • national symbols, like Israel’s Declaration of Independence, the Bible, Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah”, and the Israeli flag;
  • cultural objects;
  • paintings and other materials collected over many years from the public for sending to the moon;
  • dictionaries in 27 languages;
  • Wikipedia and other encyclopedias;
  • Israeli songs;
  • the Wayfarer’s Prayer;
  • books of art and science and Israeli literature;
  • information about Israeli scientific and technological discoveries and developments that influenced the world; photos Israel’s landscapes and leading figures in Israeli culture; and,
  • a children’s book that was inspired by SpaceIL’s mission to the moon.