Columnist Leonard David

Israel Aims to Launch Moon Lander in December

SpaceIL's lander
Artist's illustration of SpaceIL's lander on the surface of the moon. (Image credit: SpaceIL)

The first-ever Israeli moon mission will launch before the end of the year, if all goes according to plan.

The nonprofit SpaceIL and the government-owned corporation Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced Tuesday (July 10) that they aim to launch a robotic lunar landing mission atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida this December. 

The robot will then attempt a touchdown on the moon on Feb. 13, 2019. [Moon Master: An Easy Quiz for Lunatics]

Secondary payload

The spacecraft will be launched as a secondary payload from Cape Canaveral. It will begin orbiting Earth on an elliptical path. Then, upon receipt of a command from mission control, the craft will enter a higher-altitude elliptical orbit around our planet, which will reach a point near the moon, project team members said.

At this point, the lander will ignite its engines to enter a phase of orbiting the moon prior to attempting a lunar touchdown. This process will be executed autonomously by the spacecraft’s navigation control system, project team members said.

The entire journey, from launch to landing, will last approximately two months

The lunar landing would make Israel the fourth country — after Russia, the United States and China — to put a craft on the surface of the moon.

The Israeli spacecraft would be the lightest ever to land on the moon, weighing only 1,322 lbs. (600 kilograms)

The nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) plan to launch a robotic lunar landing mission atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December 2018. (Image credit: SpaceIL)

Continuing the mission

SpaceIL was the only Israeli contestant in the international Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) competition, which had offered a prize of $20 million to the first privately funded team to put a robot down on the moon, move it at least 1,650 feet and have it beam high-definition photos and video to Earth. 

The competition officially ended with no winner on March 31, with Google announcing that it would no longer sponsor it.

But SpaceIL has continued to work on its moon mission. Approximately $88 million has been invested in the spacecraft’s development and construction, mostly from private donors, project team members said.

Several other former GLXP contestants have kept their lunar projects going as well, including the American companies Moon Express and Astrobotic.

Leonard David is author of "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet," published by National Geographic. The book is a companion to the National Geographic Channel series "Mars." A longtime writer for, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. This version of the story published on

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.