Next week, all being well a Falcon 9 rocket will take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida carrying a very special payload: a spacecraft built by a Tel Aviv-based company aiming to be the first privately-funded mission to land on the Moon.
The launch follows an announcement, about a year ago, by the non-profit organisation SpaceIL that it intends to fly a small lander to the Moon early in 2019. This is not the first time that a non-governmental organisation has announced plans to send a probe to the Moon, but SpaceIL’s lander had already been built by that time. That was to allow the company to compete in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which Google declared closed in March 2018 with no winner. The company then secured an agreement with Elon Musk’s SpaceX company to “ride-share” on one of its Falcon 9 rockets, thus saving on launch costs that typically amount to $10s of millions. If successful, the landing will mark the first time that a privately-built spacecraft has set down on the Moon’s surface.
Illustration of Beresheet lander descending towards the lunar surface. Credit: SpaceIL
For this mission, the SpaceIL lander, named “Beresheet” or “In ...