Published: Fri, February 22, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

SpaceX is rocketing the first private mission to the moon tonight

SpaceX is rocketing the first private mission to the moon tonight

A time capsule is aboard the lander - which includes a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died aboard space shuttle Columbia in 2003 - as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the USA -based Arch Mission Foundation.

The Beresheet - Hebrew for "in the beginning" - will take around eight weeks to complete its mission.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off with Israel's Lunar Lander and an Indonesian communications satellite at space launch complex 40, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Beresheet will spend the next couple of months orbiting the Earth and then letting the moon's gravity pull it into the lunar orbit.

In a tweet, the company said simply: "Liftoff!"

Beresheet's creators are Israel Aerospace Industries and the nonprofit company SpaceIL, who built the spacecraft for $100 million, including launch costs - a tiny cost for a space mission.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle successfully delivered all vehicles into orbit, SpaceX reported later.

Following stage separation, SpaceX will attempt to land Falcon 9's first stage on the "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. It's set to be the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon.

The mission will be the third for Falcon 9's reusable first stage, which was already used in July and October.

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SpaceIL was originally building the Beresheet lander for the Google Lunar X Prize, but continued on with the lander after the contest ended in March 2018 without a victor for the $20 million award.

"Only after we will be sure that everything is OK, we will jump - make the lunar-capture maneuver, what we call it - and jump to the moon", Yigal Harel, the head of SpaceIL's spacecraft program, said during Wednesday's news conference.

The U.S. Air Force also has a small research spacecraft aboard the rocket, for a one-year mission in orbit around Earth.

SpaceX is now testing a system to recover the fairings of its Falcon 9 rockets.

SpaceX is planning to launch a moon lander and a satellite around 8:45 p.m. on Thursday night in Florida.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted after the landing that the booster survived the "Highest reentry heating to date". Once landed, Beresheet's mission will be to transmit photo and videos of the surface, as well as to conduct scientific measurements.

Beresheet will stay on the moon until someday, perhaps, Israeli astronauts can retrieve it.

Above, technicians stand next to the SpaceIL lunar module. They were deployed shortly after, at 44 minutes after launch. Beresheet will measure the magnetic field at the landing site, and send back data and pictures.

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