Israel to Land on the Moon in February, Group Says

The cofounders of SpaceIL, Yariv Bash (L), Kfir Damari (C) and Yonatan Winetraub, stand next to their company’s spacecraft process prototype at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

Although the contest that propelled its development has expired, SpaceIL still plans to land an Israeli-made spacecraft on the moon – and on Tuesday, the group unveiled the final version of the spacecraft it plans to launch. The launch date will be in December of this year – and if all goes well,the Israeli craft will be on the moon’s surface on February 13, 2019, company officials said at a press conference Tuesday.

“We will plant an Israeli flag on the moon,” said SpaceIL’s director Ido Anteby. “This is a small but smart spacecraft, weighing 600 kilos. It’s landing weight will be just 180 kilos.” In order to save fuel, the craft will enter into an elliptical orbit around the earth which will expand with each round, until it is brought into the moon’s orbit by that body’s field of gravity.

When it lands, an Israeli flag will be planted, and various experiments will be conducted over the course of two days, he said.

Much of the money for the project was raised from billonaire businessman and philanthropist Morris Kahan, who has donated some $100 million to it, according to media reports. Kahan said that the project was “history making. This is a marvelous adventure. When it happens, we will all remember where we were when Israel lands on the moon.”

If SpaceIL, the Israeli non-profit that has been working on the project since 2011 – with the cooperation of a slew of Israeli corporations, including Bezeq, Israel Aerospace Industries and many others – manages to pull the moonshot off, it will make Israel just the fourth country to land on the moon (the U.S., Russia and China have already been there). The Israeli moonshot will be unmanned, and will be equipped with equipment for various scientific experiments, as well as cameras which will beam video back to earth from the moon’s surface.

The moonshot is the outgrowth of a contest that Google had sponsored, which was to award a $30 million prize to the first private group to land an unmanned small spaceship on the moon. SpaceIL was one of the last finalists in the contest, which ended on March 31st without a winner.

Nevertheless, the group came very close to making the deadline – and with all the technology and capabilities developed, SpaceIL said that it plans to forge ahead. The next challenge for the organization will be to find a way to propel the craft to the moon. A number of possibilities are being considered, said SpaceIL officials, including hitching a ride on a rocket fired by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. The SpaceX rocket would boost the Israeli craft beyond the atmosphere, and it would then use its own smaller engines to reach the moon and land there.