An Israeli spacecraft will land on the moon early in 2019, the SpaceIL corporation announced Tuesday, in a mission which would make Israel the fourth country to make a lunar landing.
The SpaceIL spacecraft will be launched from the United States on a Falcon 9 orbital launch vehicle, built by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX.
At a press conference on Tuesday, SpaceIL representatives announced that the unmanned lunar landing craft will be transferred to the US in November, with a launch date in December.
According to SpaceIL, the unmanned space vessel will reach the moon and complete the lunar landing on February 13th next year.
If successful, the mission would make Israel the fourth country to make a soft-landing by an unmanned vehicle on the moon. The USSR, US, and China have landed unmanned vehicles in “soft landings” since 1966. The US remains the only country to have undertaken a manned mission to the moon, with six successful Apollo mission lunar landings from 1969 through 1972.
During its mission, the unmanned SpaceIL vehicle will plant the Israeli flag on the moon, SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby said.
“We will plant the Israeli flag on the moon,” said Anteby. “This is a small but smart spacecraft. It is 2 meters (6.6 feet) in diameter and about half a meter (1.65 feet) tall. It weighs 600 kilograms (1,323 pounds). When it lands on the moon, it will weigh 180 kilograms (397 pounds).
After its launch, the SpaceIL spacecraft will be carried into an Earth orbit at some 60,000 kilometers (37,282 miles) from the surface of the Earth.
From there, the spacecraft will gradually make its way to the moon from an elliptical orbit around the Earth. This will make the travel time far longer than on past missions to the moon, while saving on fuel and thus reducing launch weight.
SpaceIL first announced plans for a lunar landing ahead of Google’s 2012 Lunar X Prize, which promised $20 million for the first team to successfully land a vehicle on the moon.
While the contest ended with no winner, in 2014 SpaceIL launched a fundraising campaign, and received $16.4 million from American Jewish donors Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.