Israel to Launch Historic Moon Mission

The first Israeli Moon lander will reach the Moon during February 2019, and will make Israel the fourth country after the U.S., China and Russia to reach the moon. Israel Aerospace Industries and the nonprofit SpaceIL announced Yesterday that the lunar mission will be launched this December from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on board SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (as a secondary payload). Its journey to the moon will last about two months. 

The lunar landing will culminate eight years of intensive collaboration between SpaceIL and IAI. Approximately $88 million has been invested in the spacecraft’s development and construction, mostly from private donors, headed by SpaceIL President Morris Kahn, who donated about $27 million. The spacecraft’s design and development process began in 2013 and continued until last year, when its construction at the IAI MABAT Plant commenced.

Automatic Moon Landing

It weighs only about 600 kilograms. With 1.5 meters high and 2 meters in diameter it is considered the smallest to land on the moon. The fuel it will carry will comprise some 75 percent of its total weight. SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby revealed that the spacecraft will disengage from the launch rocket at an altitude of 60,000 kilometers (37,282 miles), and will begin orbiting Earth in elliptical orbits.

Upon receipt of a command from the control room, the spacecraft will enter a higher altitude elliptical orbit around Earth, which will reach a point near the moon. At this point, it will ignite its engines and reduce its speed to allow the moon’s gravity to capture it. It will then begin orbiting the moon, until the appropriate time for the landing process, which will be executed autonomously by the spacecraft’s navigation control system.

The entire journey, from launch to landing, will last approximately two months in which the spacecraft will cover 9,000,000 kilometers and will reach maximum speed of 10 meters per second (3,600 kilometers per hour). Upon its landing on February 13, 2019, the spacecraft, carrying the Israeli flag, will begin taking photos and video of the landing site and will measure the moon’s magnetic field as part of a scientific experiment conducted in collaboration with Weizmann Institute. The data will be transmitted to the IAI control room during the two days following the landing.

Thanks to Google’s Lunar X Prize competition

SpaceIL is a nonprofit organization established in 2011 aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon. Founded by three young engineers, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, SpaceIL sought to answer the international challenge presented by Google’s $20 million Lunar X Prize: to build, launch and land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. The competition ended officially with no winner on March 31, when Google announced that it would no longer sponsor it. But the Israeli team was determined to continue on its mission and to launch its spacecraft by the end of the year, regardless of the competition. Concurrently, SpaceIL continues to raise funds the complete mission.