Israel to launch its first spacecraft to the moon

A scientist stands next to an unmanned spacecraft which an Israeli team plans to launch into space at the end of the year and to land it on the Moon next year in Yahud Israel

"We will put the Israeli flag on the Moon", said Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, during Tuesday's press conference in Tel Aviv, at the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), where the spacecraft and ambitious timeline for the first non-governmental moon-landing was unveiled.

The event was also attended by Israeli billionaire philanthropist and SpaceIL president Morris Kahn, who donated some $27 million to the project.

The unmanned, $88 million Israeli spacecraft will blast off on a Falcon 9 rocket made by Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Although this is an historic national achievement, it is essentially a private initiative by the three SpaceIL founders - Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub - who strived to fulfill the dream of reaching the moon, and registered for the challenging Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.

"It's going to show the way for the rest of the world" to send a spacecraft to the moon at a reasonable cost, said IAI's Ofer Doron.

This Israeli spacecraft is expected to land on the moon in early 2019. Kahn, a businessman and philanthropist, took it upon himself to lead this project and bring it to its completion, and regards it as his personal mission.

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SpaceIL will ship the as yet unnamed module to the United States in November ahead of the launch.

SpaceIL's spacecraft is not only small-it measures 2 meters-by-1.5 meters and weighs 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds)-but also significantly less expensive than those usually launched into deep space. If it passes, it will head into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, as a secondary payload along with satellites on a SpaceX rocket. The data will be transmitted to the IAI control room during the two days following the landing.

The research, conducted in cooperation with scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, will use a magnetometer on the spacecraft to attempt to understand how the rocks on the moon received their magnetism.

Along with Kahn, the Israeli Space Agency and US megadonor casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson are funding SpaceIL.

Although the Google contest was eventually scrapped in March 2018 after none of the teams managed to launch their probes before the deadline, the SpaceIL group continued with its project, thanks to the support of its donors. It will take about two months for the spacecraft to reach its destination after launch.

A goal of the mission is to spark interest in space among young Israelis. The non-profit aims to change the discourse in Israel and to encourage boys and girls to regard science, engineering, technology and math as exciting opportunities for their future.

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