Israeli scientists have launched the first privately funded moon landing mission this week, aiming to make Israel the fourth country to make a soft landing on the surface of the moon, after the US, Russia, and China. It is also the lowest budget moon landing mission, at £77 million, or about $100.5 million, according to CNN.
Those accomplishments have built on the recent, rapid development of private spaceflight, and innovations that have reduced its cost, such as the reusable rockets developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The Israeli non-profit SpaceIL launched from Cape Canaveral on Thursday, propelled by a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX, at 8:45 p.m. local time.
While the mission isn’t government-led, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) corporation has joined the effort as a partner.
The unmanned, robotic craft was dubbed “Beresheet,” the Hebrew word for Genesis. The craft weighs 1,300 pounds, or almost 590 kilograms. Its voyage to the moon will take about seven weeks. Beresheet will orbit the earth several times to build up speed, before continuing towards the moon for an April 11th landing.
Once it reaches the moon, Beresheet will send back images and measure the moon’s magnetic field to help determine how it first formed. It will also leave behind a time capsule containing digital files of the Bible, an Israeli flag, drawings by children, and a recording of the Israeli national anthem.
The first landings on the moon were “hard landings,” which means the craft crashed onto the surface. And for 50 years, only the US and Russia had performed soft landings, until China’s Chang’e 3 mission in 2013.
The funding for the project was raised from private donations.
“This mission that we were talking about was really a mission impossible,” said Morris Kahn, an entrepreneur who donated $40 million to the Beresheet mission. “The only thing is, I didn’t realize it was impossible, and the three engineers that started this project didn’t think it was impossible, and the way Israel thinks, nothing is impossible…We are really making this dream come true.”
SpaceIL was founded in 2011, to compete for Google’s Lunar X Prize, a competition for private companies to land on the moon. It was canceled last year when none of the competitors were prepared to meet a deadline, but several of the groups continued their work.