SpaceX launches Israeli moon mission, satellite from Cape Canaveral

SpaceIL lunar lander is part of rising number of moon missions

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX launched a commercial moon lander for Israel and a satellite for Indonesia on Thursday evening from Cape Canaveral.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 with the ride-sharing payloads was scheduled for 8:45 p.m. from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40.

Several tourists and spectators watched the launch in person.

"Awesome, the most beautiful sight I've ever seen! It went right through me," Cindy Harris said.

"I thought it sounded cool. Like, really cool. Like, maybe, like thunder," 8-year-old Kaia Klien said.

Roman Fichman, who is visiting from New York, said his friends and family in Israel are very excited about the history being made with the launch of the commercial moon lander.

"Right now, it's, like, 3 o'clock in the morning in Israel, so most people are asleep, so I'm going to surprise them with sending them a video of the launch just as they are about to wake up," Fichman said.

Jenny and Andy King said they were visiting from the United Kingdom and wanted to share the experience with their daughters.

"Our daughter here is absolutely so into space, so for her it's like, an absolute dream come true to see an actual launch go up and really excited that launches have started again and the space program is going to restart," Jenny King said. "Nothing like this happens in the U.K., so it's a bit exciting. It's like history being made."

The Falcon 9's primary payload is the PSN 6 communications satellite for Indonesia; the secondary payload is a moon lander for a privately funded Israeli company, SpaceIL.

The company was among the finalists for $20 million Google Lunar XPrize last year that ended without any of the international competitors reaching the moon by the 2017 goal.

After launch, the robotic lander, named Beresheet, which means "in the beginning" in Hebrew, will land on the lunar surface about two months later, where it will take measurements of the moon’s magnetic field.

The robot will be the latest visitor to the moon in what is shaping up to be a busy time on the lunar surface.

China's Yutu 2 rover landed on the moon in January, making history for being the first mission to send back images and other data from the far side of the moon.

The European Space Agency plans to start mining for water and oxygen on the moon by 2025, the agency announced in January. ESA signed a one-year contract with European aerospace company ArianeGroup to explore mining regolith, also known as lunar soil or moon dust.

In November, NASA announced it had selected nine commercial companies to shuttle and conduct scientific research on the moon's surface as part of the new $2.6 billion Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Another ex-Google Lunar XPrize competitor Moon Express was among the nine companies awarded contracts as part of the new program.

Moon Express leases Launch Complexes 17 and 18 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and has been developing robotic lunar landers and rovers under the leadership of founder Bob Richards.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the first launch could happen possibly as soon as this year, which would mark the 50th anniversary of the first crewed moon landing.

Israel Aerospace Industries Space Division General Manager Opher Doron, SpaceIL President Morris Kahn and CEO Ido Anteby with Beresheet before the spacecraft was shipped to Florida. (Image: SpaceIL)

About the Authors:

Troy graduated from California State University Northridge with a Bachelor's Degree in Communication. He has reported on Mexican drug cartel violence on the El Paso/ Juarez border, nuclear testing facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory and severe Winter weather in Michigan.