The Israeli non-profit space organization SpaceIL has announced that it plans to send its first moonlander to the moon in February 2019.
It will happen with one of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets and it will be the first time a craft landed on the moon since 2013. When the lander arrives at the Moon, it will make a so-called “soft landing”, that is, a landing that avoids destroying the craft. Only the United States, Russia (Soviet) and China have previously managed soft landings on the moon.
Once safe and sound, on the moon, SpaceIL’s spacecraft will photograph the surface and measure the magnetic fields and then send the data back to Earth.
SpaceIL was the only Israeli company involved in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which carried a £15million ($20million) victory prize until it was scrapped in March 2018 due to contestants’ missed deadlines.
The project culminated in the design of an Israeli lunar probe, which SpaceIL claimed would launch regardless of the contest’s outcome. Four other teams are still competing against SpaceIL for the honor of winning the Google Lunar XPrize – Moon Express from the US, Team Indus from India, Hakuto from Japan, and Synergy Moon, an international group.
The Israeli spacecraft, about the size of a dishwasher, measure about 2 meters (6.6 feet) in diameter and about 0.5 meters (1.65 feet) in height. The probe weighs approximately 600kg on Earth but that weight will drop down to 180kg in the Moon’s lower gravity.
Previous spacecraft have taken just a few days to reach the moon, but since the SpaceIL craft will be fired into an elliptical orbit, the journey will take two months but it will save carrying the fuel needed for a faster trip.
In February 1966, the then-Soviet Union landed the Luna 9 probe on the moon. The US followed four months later with Surveyor 1. In 2013, the Chinese caught up with the Chang’e 3 craft.