Video: Israel’s non-profit SpaceIL project contracts SpaceX for launch of lunar lander

The non-profit volunteer Israeli organization SpaceIL announced last week that they had contracted SpaceX to launch a small spacecraft in December on a Falcon 9 rocket . The craft will land on the Moon in February: We Have a Launch and Landing Dates!

Over the past several years, SpaceIL has raised nearly $90M from donors to support the project. SpaceIL is partnering with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to complete the construction and preparation of the lander.

The lander has a mass of  600 kilograms (1,322 pounds).

The spacecraft’s design and development process, which involved intensive work of engineers, scientists and team members, began in 2013 and continued until last year, when its construction at the IAI MABAT Plant commenced. The spacecraft, which weighs only about 600 kilograms, is considered the smallest to land on the moon. It is 1.5 meters, or over 4.9 feet high, 2 meters or 6 and a half feet in diameter, and the fuel it will carry will comprise some 75 percent of its total weight. Its maximum speed will reach more than 10 km per second (36,000 kilometers, or nearly 22,370 miles, per hour).

SpaceIL’s spacecraft will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will be the secondary payload, launched with other satellites.

The spacecraft as it will be packaged for flight

The spacecraft’s trip to the Moon will not be direct:

From the moment of its launch, it will begin a long, complex flight course. The spacecraft will disengage from the launch rocket at an altitude of 60,000 kilometers, or 37,282 miles, and will begin orbiting Earth in elliptical orbits. Upon receipt of a command from the control room, the spacecraft will enter a higher altitude elliptical orbit around Earth, which will reach a point near the moon. At this point, it will ignite its engines and reduce its speed to allow the moon’s gravity to capture it. It will then begin orbiting the moon, until the appropriate time to begin the landing process. This process will be executed autonomously by the spacecraft’s navigation control system. The entire journey, from launch to landing, will last approximately two months.

The SpaceIL lander will get to the Moon via several orbits of increasing widths.

The SpaceIL team describes the mission of the project:

Upon its landing on February 13, 2019, the spacecraft, carrying the Israeli flag, will begin taking photos and video of the landing site and will measure the moon’s magnetic field as part of a scientific experiment conducted in collaboration with Weizmann Institute. The data will be transmitted to the IAI control room during the two days following the landing.

SpaceIL was the only Israeli contestant in the international Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. To win the first prize of $20 million, the participants were required to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. The competition ended officially with no winner on March 31, when Google announced that it would no longer sponsor it.

After succeeding in raising the critical funds to continue its activity, SpaceIL announced that it was determined to continue on its mission and to launch its spacecraft by the end of the year, regardless of the competition. Concurrently, the non-profit is continuing its efforts to raise the funds necessary to complete this mission.

SpaceIL aims to set in motion an “Apollo effect” in Israel: To encourage the next generation of Israeli children to choose to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); to change their perception of these subjects; to generate a sense of capability; and to allow them to dream big dreams even in our small country. The non-profit aims to change the discourse in Israel and to encourage boys and girls to regard science, engineering, technology and math as exciting opportunities for their future. In recent years, SpaceIL has ignited the imagination of about 900,000 children nationwide, with the help of a broad network of volunteers.

You can follow the progress of the SpaceIL project at the SpaceIL blog.