A team of Israeli scientists is to launch what will be the first privately funded mission to land on the moon this week, sending a spacecraft to collect data from the lunar surface.
Named Beresheet, the Hebrew word for Genesis, the 585kg (1,290lb) robotic lander will blast off from Florida at 01.45 GMT on Friday, propelled by one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. Once it touches down, in several weeks, it will measure the magnetic field of the moon to help understand how it formed.
Beresheet will also deposit a “time capsule” of digital files the size of coins containing the Bible, children’s drawings, Israel’s national anthem and blue and white flag, as well as memories of a Holocaust survivor.
“It’s going to be on the moon forever,” said Yonatan Weintraub, the co-founder of SpaceIL, the non-profit organisation leading the project.
While it is not a government-led initiative, the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) corporation joined as a partner. If the mission is successful, Israel will become the fourth country, after Russia, the US and China, to reach the moon.
“This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission,” an IAI statement said of the £77m project. “The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions.” It added that although it was a private venture, Beresheet was a “national and historic achievement”.
Crewed trips to the moon in the late 1960s and early 70s took around three days, but the probe will take a less direct route. It will first move in ever-growing elliptical orbits around the Earth until it intercepts the moon’s gravitational pull. Its creators have estimated it will land on 11 April.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Oliver Holmes