7 things to know about Israel's moon lander SpaceX is about to launch

Beresheet, launching Thursday, is size of smart car

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet during pre-launch operations. (Image: SpaceIL)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - An Israeli spacecraft set to launch Thursday night from Cape Canaveral will make history if it successfully lands on the moon's surface in a few months.

SpaceIL's moon lander is hitching a ride to the lunar surface on a SpaceX Falcon 9 along with the PSN 6 communications satellite for Indonesia.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 with the ride-sharing payloads is scheduled for 8:45 p.m. from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40. The weather continues to look good. Air Force weather officials are predicting an 80 percent chance of favorable launch conditions come liftoff.

Keep reading to learn more about this historic mission.

Beresheet’s namesake

The lunar lander’s name was the result of crowdsourcing the Israeli public on Facebook. Beresheet was chosen in a final vote out of nine female Hebrew names and means “in the beginning” or “Genesis.”

SpaceIL officials said they hope the name and the spacecraft inspire the next generation of space explorers. A children’s book called “The Little Spacecraft” was inspired by the mission to help educate children about STEM subjects and “nurture the dreams of kids across Israel.”

No. 4

Israel will become the fourth country to ever land a spacecraft on the moon. That same club includes the U.S., Russia and China. 

This is also the first privately funded lunar landing. Tech companies, Israeli universities and several philanthropists funded the mission. SpaceIL is also supported by full-time staff as well as dozens of volunteers.

To mark the historic achievement, a time capsule that includes drawings from Israeli children and music are flying with the spacecraft to the moon.

SpaceX launch with experienced booster

This will be the third flight for the Falcon 9 first-stage booster launching Beresheet. SpaceX launched the same booster twice last year, delivering the Iridum-7 satellite and an Argentinian satellite into orbit.

SpaceX no longer cleans the booster’s char marks from launch, giving the rocket an experienced look.

Google it

SpaceIL was one of the finalists in Google’s Lunar XPrize that ended last year without any of the international private competitors reaching the moon by 2017. If any of the companies had made it to the moon and sent back images, they would have received a $20 million prize.

Beresheet will be the first of its competitors to make that goal, even though the competition is over.

The journey 

After separating from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Beresheet still has a significant journey. The spacecraft will take two to three months to arrive and is expected to make its lunar debut in April.
Normally, the journey to the moon takes a few days. Due to the small size of the spacecraft, it will orbit Earth three times as its orbits gets wider and closer to the moon. When Beresheet is close enough to the moon, it will slow down, and the lunar gravity will pull the spacecraft in. Beresheet will then begin an elliptical orbit around the moon several times before it begins the landing process.

The landing

On or after April 11, the spacecraft’s engines will fire, as it must slow from more than 3,730 mph to zero mph as it touches down on the moon’s surface. Five meters before Beresheet lands, all engines will shut off and the lander will free-fall for a moment to complete the landing on four legs.

Beresheet’s tripod-like legs are designed to absorb the landing energy and prevent the spacecraft from toppling over.

What will Beresheet tell us about the moon?

The lander will touch down within the Mare Serenitatis on the northern hemisphere of the moon. The location was chosen because of the site’s magnetic anomalies.

Beresheet is equipped with a suite of scientific instruments to measure the moon’s magnetic field.

The moon has a very weak magnetic field and before Apollo astronauts brought back moon rocks, scientists didn’t even know the moon had a magnestic field. They now know the field was, at one point, as strong as Earth’s but eventually dissolved.

ClickOrlando.com and News 6 will live stream the launch. Tune in to ClickOrlando.com/Space at 8:30 p.m. for the countdown.

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