Israel SpaceX Launch Set to Make it Fourth Nation to Reach the Moon

On Thursday, an Israeli spacecraft will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to begin its journey toward the moon.

If the unmanned, 350-pound vehicle (without fuel) known as Beresheet, successfully touches down on the lunar surface, it will be the smallest and cheapest spacecraft to ever achieve the feat, The Times of Israel reported.

It will also make Israel the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon—alongside the United States, China and Russia (when it was part of the Soviet Union)—as well as the smallest, by quite a distance.

Developed by private company SpaceIL—in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries—Beresheet was built at a cost of only $100 million, which is relatively cheap for such a mission.

The creators say the price and weight has been kept down by the fact that the spacecraft is not equipped with duplicate systems that act as backups, meaning that if something fails, the mission will likely not succeed.

In fact, NASA is reportedly so impressed by Beresheet's cost effective design that the space agency is considering making it a prototype for future moon landings.

Funding for the project came entirely from private donations given by prominent Jewish philanthropists, including South African–born billionaire Morris Kahn and American Lynn Schusterman.

"This is the first mission of a small country to the moon, but it's a nongovernment mission to the Moon, which is privately financed," SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby said at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Monday, the Times reported. "It will open new horizons to the moon for commercial opportunities. Usually, these kinds of projects come from government agencies of major superpowers."

After launch—scheduled for 8:45 p.m. ET—the spacecraft will detach from the Falcon 9 and orbit the Earth multiple times. This will accelerate Beresheet and slingshot it toward the Moon. If all goes well, the craft will land on April 11 in a region known as the Sea of Tranquility, according to SpaceIL.

Once on the lunar surface, Beresheet's mission is expected to last just a couple of days before the sun's rays destroy its crucial communication systems. However, scientists hope that in this time, it will be able to send back valuable data regarding the moon's magnetic field, which could provide insights into how our natural satellite was formed.

The development of the spacecraft began as part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition—which challenged participating teams to "land a privately funded rover on the moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit back high definition video and images" for a chance of winning $20 million. Google ended the contest without a winner, but the Beresheet team decided to continue with their project.

The Beresheet spacecraft is seen during a presentation by Israeli non-profit SpaceIL on December 17, 2018 in Yehud, east of Tel Aviv. If the unmanned, 350-pound vehicle successfully touches down on the lunar surface, it will be the smallest and cheapest spacecraft to ever achieve the feat. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images