SpaceX Launches Multi-Pronged Mission, Including Israeli Lunar Lander

Its Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, where a trio of spacecraft, including a moon lander, came along for the ride. But Israel's privately funded lunar lander - a first not just for Israel but commercial space - generated the buzz.

"We have a vision to show off Israel's best qualities to the entire world", Sylvan Adams, a SpaceIL donor and Canadian-Israeli philanthropist, said during a pre-launch briefing in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday (Feb. 20).

It is also carrying an Indonesian telecommunications satellite and an experimental US Air Force satellite.

Beresheet would mark the first non-government lunar landing. The rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which has installed equipment on Beresheet to upload its signals from the Moon, said last week it aims to land instruments later this year or next year and that it is inviting private sector bids to build and launch the U.S. probes.

In addition to a textbook launch and payload deployments, SpaceX scored yet another success in its pioneering technology for recycling its own rockets.

The Soviet Union was the first to put a spacecraft on the moon, Luna 2, in 1959. It's set to be the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon.

Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin quickly offered congratulations following Thursday's launch.

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"This time, when we go to the Moon, we're actually going to stay", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said last week. Mounted on the spacecraft is a laser retroreflector, a mirroring device that requires no power and can be used for space-to-ground communications via NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN).

SpaceIL said it hoped Beresheet would help inspire Israel's defence-focused space program to pursue more science missions by way of an "Apollo effect", referring to the manned lunar exploration program that became NASA's chief objective in the 1960s and early '70s. The organizers chose to press ahead on their own, with donations from billionaires as well as schoolchildren.

Lunar surface operations are meant to last just two days.

Beresheet is created to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon's magnetic field. A time capsule is aboard the lander - which includes a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died aboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003 - as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the USA -based Arch Mission Foundation.

Ramon's widow, Rona, was a big supporter of Beresheet; she died of cancer in December.

It's the third time this booster has been launched and landed, and marks SpaceX's 34th successful landing.

The launch was the second of the year for SpaceX. Sparks from burning metal were visible in the landing video.

The booster from this mission is scheduled to be redeployed in April.

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