Nonprofit Israeli startup SpaceIL hopes to become the first private company to achieve a moon landing, after its Beresheet probe blasts off tonight atop a SpaceX rocket.
A moon landing by SpaceIL would also make Israel only the fourth nation to do so after the U.S., Russia and China.
SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander is set to lift off at 8:45 p.m. ET aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The SpaceIL trip will take roughly two months. If successful, the spacecraft will achieve a moon landing on or around April 11.
The Beresheet, which means Genesis in Hebrew, should last roughly two days before the sun’s heat fries its instruments, according to reports.
It will take photos of the moon’s surface and measure its magnetic field. It will also carry a mirror designed to reflect laser light from the moon back to Earth, so researchers can precisely measure the distance between the two.
The Falcon 9 will also launch two other payloads Thursday night: the Indonesian Nusantara Satu telecom satellite and an Air Force Research Lab satellite designed to test space situational awareness technologies.
SpaceIL Moon Landing A Decade In The Making
The SpaceIL team hopes its lunar mission will kick-start an era of low-cost space missions. Its budget of $90 million is much lower than previous expeditions.
The founders of SpaceIL have worked on the lunar mission since 2009, when they began competing for the $20 million Lunar X Prize. In 2011, they established SpaceIL.
Alphabet (GOOGL)-owned Google partnered on the Lunar X prize, which would’ve gone to the first private mission to land a spacecraft on the moon. But the contest ended in January 2018 without a winner.
But SpaceIL pushed ahead with its moon landing mission, and even received $24 million from Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, the CEO of Las Vegas Sands (LVS) to keep going.
Meanwhile, SpaceX has its own plans for the moon too. The company founded by Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk plans to launch tourists around the moon in 2023 and has signed up Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa.
And in another milestone for the space industry, SpaceX and Boeing (BA) are scheduled to become the first companies to launch astronauts to the International Space Station later this year.
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