Israel Launches First-Ever Mission to the Moon

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Blastoff occurred right on time at 8:45 p.m. ET.

Narrating the mission, program reliability engineer Kate Tice said Falcon 9 made "a successful landing - a rather spicy landing attempt - on our droneship Of Course I Still Love You".

Just minutes after blasting off, the Falcon 9's nine-engine suborbital main-stage booster rocket could be seen in the sky just as the moon appeared over the horizon.

SpaceX released photos from the launch shortly after it happened. Sparks were visible emanating from the base heat shield during the landing video as a result of what SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted was the "highest reentry heating to date". It's the third time that booster has been launched and recovered, with its next launch planned for April.

SpaceIL and IAI kept the price tag so low in part by sharing a ride on the Falcon 9, which lofted two other spacecraft to Earth orbit last night as well.

As one of the commenters on a YouTube clip of the launch noted, look how much tiny, resource-strained Israel has managed to achieve in the short 70 years of its modern existence? A half-hour after liftoff, the lunar lander was free and on its way.

Beresheet is slated to reach its destination on the near-side of the moon in mid-April following a two-month journey through 4 million miles (6.5 million kilometers) of space.

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Instead, researchers said the atmosphere was wetter and warmer - meaning there could be a steady flow of water on the surface. The rover would have the goal of drilling into the Mars surface in search for signs of life, be it past or present.

The Beresheet mission will only last for a few days, as the lunar lander won't be able to withstand the temperature extremes on the surface. Weighing 1,322 pounds (600 kg), it's also the first spacecraft from an Israeli entity and the first privately-funded spacecraft to reach the lunar surface.

SpaceIL was founded eight years ago to compete in the Google Lunar X Prize, an worldwide competition to see whether a private enterprise could land a spacecraft on the moon, move 500 meters in any direction, and transmit live, high-definition video from the lunar surface.

The Nasantara Satu mission lifts off from Cape Canaveral on February 21, 2019, carrying SpaceIL's lunar lander bound for the moon.

Beresheet was created by SpaceIL, an Israel-based nonprofit, and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel's largest aerospace company. The company, inspired by SpaceIL's lunar ambitions, has developed commercial ambitions of its own regarding the moon.

The landing sequence should take about 15 minutes - a delicate procedure that'll be monitored by a joint group from the Israel Space Agency, NASA and the Weizmann Institute of Science, reports The Jerusalem Post. The satellite's name translates to "One Archipelago", referencing PSN's home country and primary market of Indonesia, which consists of more than 17,000 islands.

The spacecraft will use electric propulsion to get into orbit and has traditional, chemical thrusters for stationkeeping.

All these launched from the Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Air Force station.

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