First Florida Launch of 2019 Sends Private Spacecraft to the Moon

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION: After a 60-day drought of Space Coast launches, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched at 8:45 PM on Feburary 21, 2019 to deliver three payloads to space. The primary mission is a Nusantara Satu satellite for Indonesia. Also riding along were a small satellite for the USAF and a privately-developed lunar lander called Beresheet.

SpaceX’s first east-coast launch of 2019 lifts off from Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photo Credit: Bill Jelen / We Report Space

The Lunar Lander began when three men walked into a bar in 2010 and proposed a plan to land a spacecraft on the moon. The spacecraft design began in 2015. The project was the leading competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, until the competition expired without a winner on March 30, 2018. Like all good projects hatched in a bar, the principals decided to go through with the launch whether there is a prize or not.

The lander has begun a series of elliptical orbits that will require about eight weeks to reach the Moon. Although the Moon and the Earth are 238,000 miles apart, Beresheet will be travelling 4 million miles. On a final approach to the moon, the lander will execute a burn that will allow it to be caught by the gravity of the Moon. Watch for the milestones: 

  • Launch: February 21, 2019 
  • Reaching 250,000 miles in orbit: March 20, 2019
  • Lunar Capture: April 4, 2019
  • Landing: April 11, 2019
There’s a lot to take in here, but this is 40 mins of pre-launch star trails + 4 minutes of rocket streak + 55 seconds of the Moon rising with bonus: the boost-back landing burn, low on the horizon. Photo Credit: Michael Seeley / We Report Space
Once the lander reaches the surface of the Moon, it will measure the magnetic field of the Moon at high resolution. That data will be shared with X and NASA. The lander will take panoramic pictures and transmit them back to Earth. After a two-day mission, the lander will power off and remain on the Moon, as a lasting legacy to this trip. The private venture, based in Israel, represents the first country outside of Russia, the United States, and China to land on the Moon. One of the components of the project is a time capsule. The principals hope that some future mission to the Moon might recover the lander and bring it back to Earth.

Artist rendering of the lunar lander on the Moon. Photo courtesy SpaceIL.
During a pre-launch press conference, Kfir Damari, co-founder of SpaceIL detailed the design philosophy that allowed the project to be completed for under $100 Million. “Not having a redundancy sounds strange to people who come from the space industry. The reason for that: what happens in the space industry is 99.99 with a lot of 9’s after it to be sure that things will work. If you look at our partner, IAI, every spacecraft that got into space with 100% success, and I would even say more than 100%, because sometimes a satellite that was supposed to work for 10 years can work for 14 or more, which in a way is amazing, but when we started, we realized if we go in that direction, it won’t work. If we think about it from a budget perspective, if something worked for 14 years and not 10 years, it means that you invested a lot of effort in making it work really good, but more than what you expect. To compare that to our mission: We are going to reach the Moon, and then we are going to have a mission of around two days. It’s not 10 days. It’s not 10 years. It’s not 1 year. It is two days. It is a different way of thinking about a space mission. We are going to go to the Moon. We are going to land. And when we land, we are going to do something specific. By reducing the time of the mission, you are reducing the chances that something could go wrong.”

The Lunar Lander is the gold foil-wrapped unit at the top of this stack. Photo Courtesy of SpaceIL.
Developed by SpaceIL, the lunar lander is setting a number of firsts:
  • The first small country mission to the Moon
  • The first non-governmental mission to the Moon
  • The first Moon mission to use a commercial launch provider
  • The smallest spacecraft ever designed to land on the Moon
  • Beresheet will be the smallest spacecraft to land on the moon to date
  • First lunar landing by a country other than China, Russia or USA
The spacecraft has a launch mass of 1325 pounds. Of that weight, 992 pounds is fuel for the mission. The final 331 pounds of fuel will be used for braking maneuvers during landing. The height of the lander is five feet and the diameter, with landing legs extended, is 7 feet.


Falcon 9 / Nusantara Satu (Bill & Mary Ellen Jelen)

On September 21, 2022, SpaceX lifted three spacecraft including the Nusantara Satu Satellite for Indonesia, a Small Satellite for the USAF, and the Lunar Lander for SpaceIL.

Falcon 9 / Nusantara Satu (Michael Seeley)

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