Israel's first moon mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral

Israel's first moon mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral

Israel's first moon mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral

If all goes according to plan, Beresheet will gently touch down on the lunar surface on April 11, becoming the first private spacecraft to reach the surface of another planetary body.

The US Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon - the only ones yet achieved - between 1969 and 1972, with about a dozen more robotic landings combined by the Americans and Soviets. Once it lands, the probe will conduct various experiments on the Moon's surface, testing its magnetism and geology. The other two items taken up were an Indonesian communications satellite and a US Air Force experimental satellite.

The 585-kilogram, dishwasher-sized lander was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and state-owned defence contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) with $US100 million furnished nearly entirely by private donors.

As for the SpaceX Falcon 9 that delivered the goods, its first stage booster made its third successful trip into space, and it landed successfully on a drone ship in the Atlantic ocean. Data will be relayed via the USA space agency NASA's Deep Space Network to SpaceIL's Israel-based ground station Yehud. This means they're sharing their payload with another satellite launching to Earth orbit, and that they can't choose their initial orbit very carefully.

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First Beresheet will orbit the Earth for not quite two months.

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.

Last year, SpaceIL was one of five finalists that failed to claim any part of the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million 21st century space race to send the first private mission to 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.

Despite the financial troubles that prevented it from making the Xprize deadline, SpaceIL found more funding and is continuing the mission without the promise of a $20 million prize.

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During its descent, the spacecraft will measure the Moon's magnetic field, potentially revealing new details about iron core deep below, reports The New York Times.

Beresheet is helping to blaze a trail for low-priced private space exploration. Temperatures on the moon are extreme, with the daytime heat reaching about 100 degrees Celsius and the nighttime chills dipping to minus 173 degrees, and the budget lander isn't equipped to deal with the sweltering heat of a lunar day. The agency thinks these 9 companies can get it to the lunar surface.

It would take almost another 50 years for a third country to perform a soft moon landing, when China's Chang'e 3 did it in 2013.

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