Israel plans to launch moon mission on SpaceX rocket this year

Israeli scientists stand next to an unmanned spacecraft in Yahud

Israeli scientists stand next to an unmanned spacecraft in Yahud

SpaceIL said the probe would be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December on a Falcon 9 rocket built by Elon Musk's SpaceX company.

Israel announced on Tuesday that it will launch its first lunar mission in December, with the hopes of becoming the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon in February 2019.

Israeli billionaire and investor Morris Kahn (left) answers journalists' questions in front of a Israeli Aerospace Industries spacecraft during a news conference Tuesday to announce its launch to the moon, in Yehud, Eastern Tel Aviv. Upon landing, the craft will relay photographs and collect data about the moon's magnetism for research by Israel's Weizmann Institute.

Initially, this plan was part of a competition that Google set up called the Lunar XPrize. However, the competition expired this March, with the $20m grand prize for landing on the moon unclaimed.

SpaceIL is backed mainly by private donors, including USA casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and billionaire Morris Kahn who co-founded Amdocs, one of Israel's biggest high-tech companies.

The overall cost of the project is estimated to be around $95 million.

It is about 2m (6.6ft) in diameter and 1.5m high, and will weigh only 585kg (1,300lb) at launch.

Since 1966, the United States and the former Soviet Union have put around 12 unmanned spacecraft on the moon using braking power to perform "soft" landings and China did so in 2013.

Mr Kahn said he hoped the mission would create an "Apollo effect" for the next generation in Israel - a reference to the enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and maths triggered by Neil Armstrong's Moon walk in 1969.

Ofer Doron, head of IAI's space division, said Israel was "going to show the way for the rest of the world" to send a spacecraft to the Moon at a reasonable cost.

"This is a tremendous project", he added. "When the rocket is launched into space, we will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon".

The project began when young engineers - Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub - chose to build a spacecraft and take part in the Lunar Xprize competition sponsored by Google, which originally included a $20 million prize for the first group of contestants to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon.

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