SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday night, and while it may not be the primary payload, a small Israeli lunar lander is by far the mission’s most intriguing payload.
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The 180kg Beresheet spacecraft, privately developed by SpaceIL in Israel and funded largely through philanthropy, will spend more than six weeks raising its orbit, and becoming captured into lunar orbit, before finally making the first private attempt to land on the Moon. Until now, only the U.S, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have ever successfully landed on the Moon.
This means there is a lot of pressure on the small Israeli team leading the mission, both in their native country and among the commercial lunar community, which wants to prove that private ventures can do what only nations have done before. “What it means to me is that the responsibility is very high,” said Yoav Landsman, a senior systems engineer for the project, in an interview.