Israel plans un-crewed Moon landing in 2019

Small, light craft scheduled for December launch on SpaceX rocket.

An Israeli non-profit organization, working in conjunction with a government-owned space corporation, plans to put a robotic lander on the Moon on February 13, 2019.

The joint project by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) was initially intended for the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which Google ended March 31 with no winner after five teams experienced repeated launch delays, largely due to lack of funds.

Google had offered a $20 million prize to the first non-profit, privately-funded group to land a craft on the Moon, have it travel a minimum of 1,650 feet, and send high-definition photos and videos of the event back to Earth.

Like several of its competitors, including American teams Moon Express and Astrobotic, SpaceIL decided to continue pursuing the project without the prize. The non-profit has raised about $88 million in investments, largely from private donors, to develop and build its spacecraft.

Current plans call for SpaceIL’s lander to launch as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December.

After launch, the lander will first enter into an elliptical orbit around the Earth. Once there, mission control will command it to raise itself to a much higher Earth orbit, also elliptical. From this location, it will approach the Moon, igniting its engines to enter lunar orbit before touching down on the lunar surface.

All of these tasks will be carried out autonomously through the lander’s navigation control system.

Weighing just 1,322 pounds (600 kilograms), the lander will be the lightest and smallest spacecraft to land on the Moon. If the landing is successful, the lander will follow up by using a magnetometer to measure the Moon’s magnetic field as well as take photos and videos.

Should the mission succeed, it will make Israel the fourth country to land a vehicle on the Moon’s surface, following Russia, the United States, and China.

Representatives of SpaceIL hope the project will inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, much like the Apollo program did during the 1960s and 1970s.

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