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SpaceX Has Launched the First Private Lunar Lander Mission

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Updated: | Originally published: ;

SpaceX launched the first private lunar landing mission on Thursday evening, sending an Israeli spacecraft cratering toward the moon and taking a leap for commercial space missions.

A Falcon9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying a privately funded Israeli spacecraft that seeks to measure the magnetic field of the moon, according to The New York Times.

The robotic lunar lander, called Beresheet, Hebrew for “in the beginning,” was created by the nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Israel’s largest aerospace and defense company. It would be the first privately built spacecraft to reach the moon, and make Israel the fourth country to successfully stage a lunar landing.

It will take eight weeks to get to the moon. Once the spacecraft lands, which is expected happen sometime in April, the mission will only last a few days as the electronics are not designed to handle the rising surface temperatures from the sun, according to the Times.

If the mission succeeds, it could unlock information about the moon’s iron core.

The mission was originally intended for Google’s Lunar Xprize, a competition designed to encourage privately funded groups to send robotic landers to the moon. But it ended without a winner of the $20 million prize, pushing groups like SpaceIL to pursue missions independently, the Times reports.

SpaceIL is not the chief payload of the SpaceX rocket. The main client is an Indonesian satellite operator called Pasifik Satelit Nusantara which plans to launch a telecommunications satellite called Nusantara Satu. The U.S. Air Force will also deploy a satellite.

The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has successfully launched and landed in July 2018 and October 2018, the Times reports.

Watch the mission unfold here.


Correction, Feb. 25

The original version of this story misstated the number of countries that have made soft landings on the Moon. The U.S., Russia and China have made soft landings, Israel’s mission would not be the first.

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