Israel is all set to launch its first moon mission on February 22. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and technology NGO SpaceIL announced the date at a press conference. The space agency will be sending an unmanned spacecraft to collect data to be shared with NASA, organisers said Monday. The 585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet (Genesis) spacecraft is to lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida at around 0145 GMT. The mission control will be in Yehud, near Tel Aviv. It will serve as a way-station for trips to and from the lunar surface, but will not be permanently crewed.
"We are entering history and are proud to belong to a group that has dreamed and fulfilled the vision shared by many countries in the world but that so far only three of them have accomplished," SpaceIL president Morris Kahn said.
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So far only Russia, the United States and China have sent spacecraft to the moon. The Chinese craft made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3. The landing site of China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe has been named "Statio Tianhe". So far, a total of 12 lunar features have been named by China. China's Chang'e-4 probe, launched on December 8, landed on the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.
NASA, which has installed equipment on Genesis to upload its signals from the moon, said last week it aims to land an unmanned vehicle there by 2024, and it is inviting private sector bids to build the US probe.
The USD 100-million project will measure the lunar magnetic field to help understanding of the moon's formation.
"This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding," the IAI statement said.
"Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government." The project started as a potential entry for the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered a USD 30-million reward to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to offer relatively inexpensive lunar missions.
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NASA plans to build a small space station, dubbed Gateway, in the moon's orbit by 2026.
“Genesis will make its 6.5-million-kilometre (one million-mile) journey at a maximum speed of 10 kilometres per second (36,000 kilometres per hour),” according to an IAI statement.