SpaceIL and IAI plan to launch a lunar mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida this December, and land on the moon on February 13, 2019. A final launch date is said to be announced closer to the event.
The lunar landing will culminate eight years of intensive collaboration between SpaceIL and IAI and will make Israel the fourth country to reach the moon after the US, China, and Russia. The spacecraft will be launched as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and its journey to the moon will last about two months, ending on its expected landing date. The Israeli lunar spacecraft will be the smallest to land on the moon, weighing only 1,322 pounds (600 kg).
The spacecraft’s design and development process began in 2013 and continued until last year when its construction at the IAI MABAT Plant commenced. The spacecraft is 1.5 m (over 4.9 ft.) high, 2 m (6.5 ft.) 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).
From the moment of its launch, the spacecraft will begin a long, complex flight course. It 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.
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.
Approximately $88 million (NIS 320 million) has been invested in the spacecraft’s development and construction, mostly from private donors, headed by SpaceIL President Morris Kahn, who donated about $27 million, or NIS 100 million.
“After eight challenging years, I am filled with pride that the first Israeli spacecraft, which is in its final construction and testing phases, will soon be making its way to the moon,” said Kahn. “I have experienced numerous challenges in my life, but this was the greatest challenge of all. This is a huge achievement for us – SpaceIL – and for our partners, Israel Aerospace Industries, which have been with us since day one. The launch of the first Israeli spacecraft will fill Israel, in its 70th year, with pride. It is a national accomplishment that will put us on the world’s space map.”
Dr. Ido Anteby, SpaceIL CEO, added that “In the coming months, the spacecraft will undergo a series of intensive checks and tests at IAI, to prove that it will withstand the launch, flight and landing conditions. The excellent teams of SpaceIL and IAI are working with determination to complete this unique technological challenge in time for the launch date this December.”
IAI's President and CEO Josef Weiss said, “The State of Israel, which is already firmly planted in the realm of space in its military activity, must harness resources for the benefit of civilian space, which is an engine of innovation, technology, education and groundbreaking around the world.”