Israel announces unmanned moon mission for later this year

12 Jul 2018

The SpaceIL spacecraft in a clean room. Image: Eliran Avital/SpaceIL

SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit, has announced plans to send the first privately funded unmanned spacecraft to the moon.

Israel is aiming to become the fourth nation to land on the moon and the first to use a small spacecraft to do so.

The plans were announced in a press conference in Yehud, Israel, on 10 July.

The country’s space division (Israel Aerospace Industries) and SpaceIL plan to launch an unmanned lunar spacecraft on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral in Florida this December. The spacecraft is pegged to land on the moon’s surface in 2019.

The positive result of an abandoned Google contest

The SpaceIL project started as part of the Lunar X Prize run by Google. Beginning in 2007, it offered $30m in prizes to galvanise people to create low-cost methods of applying robotics to space exploration.

Unfortunately, the competition itself expired in March of this year and the grand prize was left unclaimed. No organisation was able to meet the deadline.

Israel moon mission is ambitious

Much of the funding has been provided by Israeli billionaire and SpaceIL president Morris Kahn, and $88.5m in total has been spent on the project to date.

Kahn said: “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.”

The probe measures approximately two metres in diameter and is 1.5 metres high, weighing a little under 600kg. More than two-thirds of the weight is fuel, which will be used up by the time it lands on the moon’s surface.

If successful, Israel will become the fourth country to ‘soft land’ on the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the US and China.

Once on the moon, SpaceIL plans to use the probe to study its magnetic field, transmitting the data back to Earth for use in an experiment it is working on with the Weizmann Institute.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects