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Israel plans to launch moon mission on SpaceX rocket this year

The Israeli flag may soon fly on the moon.

This Israeli spacecraft is expected to land on the moon in early 2019.
Eliran Avital

Three countries have landed missions on the moon: the US, the Soviet Union and China. Israel hopes to be the fourth when it launches a spacecraft this December with an assist from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The unmanned mission is a joint effort between private company Israel Aerospace Industries and nonprofit organization SpaceIL. SpaceIL participated in the Google Lunar XPrize competition, which wrapped up earlier this year with no ultimate winner. The people at SpaceIL aren't letting that stop them from completing the lunar journey.

This illustration imagines what the spacecraft would look like on the moon.


On Tuesday, the team announced its goal of a Feb. 13, 2019, moon landing, but it has yet to set a specific launch date in December. It will take about two months for the spacecraft to reach its destination after launch.

SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries have raised $88 million primarily from private donors to fund the project over the past eight years. 

The dainty spacecraft is just about 5 feet (1.5 meters) high and weighs 1,322 pounds (600 kilograms). The team says it will be the smallest spacecraft to land on the moon. 

Once it touches down on the moon, the spacecraft will use its cameras to take photos and video of the lunar surface. It will also measure the moon's magnetic field at the landing site using a magnetometer. 

The spacecraft will undergo final testing over the coming months to make sure it can survive the rigors of launch, flight and landing. If it passes, it will head into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, as a secondary payload along with satellites on a SpaceX rocket.

"The launch of the first Israeli spacecraft will fill Israel, in its 70th year, with pride," said SpaceIL President Morris Kahn. "It is a national accomplishment that will put us on the world's space map."

Originally published July 10 at 11:05 a.m. PT.
Updated at 6:45 a.m. PT: To note that the Soviet Union landed a mission on the moon.

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