Israel has put in its bid to be the fourth nation to reach the Moon and the first privately-funded mission to do so. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the nonprofit SpaceIL today outlined plans to send up an unmanned spacecraft that will make a lunar landing on February 13, 2019.
At a press conference at IAI's MBT Space facility in Yehud, Israel, the partners said that the US$88 million spacecraft will take two months to reach the Moon after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and at 1,322 lb (600 kg) it will be the smallest spacecraft to touch down on the Moon's surface.
The as-yet unnamed lander began life in 2013 as Israel's entry in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, which offered US$20 million to the first team to make a soft landing on the Moon and complete a series of tasks. The contest officially ended on March 21, 2018 when Google withdrew sponsorship, but IAI and SpaceIL continued to solicit funds from various sources and the partners have decided to carry on with the mission alone.
The four-legged lander stands 4.9 ft (1.5 m) high and is 6.5 ft (2 m) in diameter. When fully fueled, propellant will make up 75 percent of its weight. However, Israel will not be launching the Moon mission. Instead, it will be sent up as a secondary payload atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a yet to be determined date in December.
Normally, a lunar mission is sent into a translunar insertion orbit by the top stage of the rocket, but the Israeli probe will have to rely on a series of orbital maneuvers after it separates from the Falcon 9 second stage at an altitude of 37,282 mi (60,000 km). These will push it into increasingly eccentric orbits over the course of two months. When it comes close to the Moon, it will autonomously fire its engine to send it into lunar orbit.
According to SpaceIL, after it makes its February 13 landing, the probe carrying the Israeli flag will take images and videos of the landing site before conducting a magnetic field measurement experiment and transmitting the data back to the IAI control room over the next two days.
"SpaceIL, in collaboration with IAI, is embarking on the final leg of its complex mission to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon," says SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby. "In the coming months the spacecraft will undergo a series of intensive checks and tests at IAI, to prove that it will withstand the launch, flight and landing conditions. The excellent teams of SpaceIL and IAI are working with determination to complete this unique technological challenge in time for the launch date this December."
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