An Israeli non-profit organisation has announced plans to send the first privately-funded unmanned spacecraft to the Moon later this year. In May, China launched a relay satellite that will orbit the moon and allow it to receive signals from a planned probe that will land on the far side of the moon.
Its first task however will be to plant an Israeli flag on the moon, organizers said.
Israel announced Tuesday that it will launch its first lunar mission in December 2018, hoping to become the fourth country to land on the moon, following the U.S., Russian Federation and China.
Back in 2013, SpaceIL began developing its spaceship, cooperating with Israel Aeronautics Industries.
With its 585 kilograms, two meters in diameter and a meter and a half high, the Israeli spacecraft will be the smallest to ever land on the moon, Ido Anteby, the CEO of the nonprofit SpaceIL said on Tuesday.
A successful mission would be a significant achievement, giving scientists a relatively low-priced spacecraft for future experiments, said Tal Inbar, head of the Space & UAV Research Center at The Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies in Herzilya, Israel. SpaceIL was the first of 16 Google Lunar XPRIZE competitors to sign a launch contract and one of only five teams to reach the finals. Unlike bigger spacecraft that took four days to reach the moon, the smaller fuel capacity means SpaceIL must take an indirect way, orbiting the Earth to reach the moon, SpaceIL said.
Kahn said the lunar launch "will fill Israel, in its 70th year, with pride. It is a national accomplishment that will put us on the world's space map".
The entire journey, from launch to landing, is expected to last about eight weeks.
The plan calls for the lander to execute a series of in-space maneuvers, then touch down on the lunar surface next February to transmit imagery and measure the moon's magnetic field.
But SpaceIL has continued to work on its moon mission. With the help of a broad network of volunteers, SpaceIL has already made presentations to about 900,000 children nationwide.
A goal of the mission is to spark interest in space among young Israelis.
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