Update for 10 p.m. EST: SpaceX has successfully launched the SpaceIL Beresheet moon lander and Nusantara Satu satellites. Read our full story here.
An Israeli spacecraft will launch on a historic moon mission tonight (Feb. 21), and you can watch the liftoff live online.
The Beresheet robotic lunar lander is scheduled to lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT on Feb. 22) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, kicking off an eight-week journey to the moon's surface. Watch it here at Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly via the spaceflight company.
Beresheet's creators — the nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the nation's largest aerospace and defense company — will also webcast the launch live on Facebook. [Israel's 1st Moon Lander Beresheet in Pictures]
SpaceIL is a former entrant in the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition that encouraged privately funded groups to put a robotic craft down on the moon. The Prize ended last year with no winner, but some of its teams — such as SpaceIL and the American company Moon Express — have continued to develop their lunar missions.
SpaceIL and IAI are going for something very big here. Israel has never landed anything on the moon before, nor has any privately funded group. Indeed, the only entities to ace a lunar touchdown to date are superpowers — the Soviet Union, the United States and China (which joined the club in 2013, and notched the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon just last month with the Chang'e 4 mission).
And Beresheet is pioneering in its cost effectiveness as well. The mission's total price tag, including launch, is just $100 million, SpaceIL representatives said.
If all goes according to plan, the 5-foot-tall (1.5 meters) Beresheet — whose name means "in the beginning" in Hebrew — will land on the moon on April 11. The lander will study craters and the local magnetic field (unlike Earth, the moon doesn't have a global magnetic field) during its lunar approach and two-Earth-day surface mission. But the main goal is to inspire young people around the world, especially those in Israel.
"SpaceIL is actively working to create an Israeli 'Apollo Effect,'" SpaceIL representatives wrote on the mission's website. "SpaceIL is committed to inspiring the next generation in Israel and around the world to choose to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)."
Beresheet will also tote an Israeli flag and a time capsule, which includes a "Lunar Library." The library is a project of the nonprofit Arch Mission Foundation, which seeks to archive human knowledge for millions or billions of years. The Lunar Library will carry, among other things, the entirety of the English-language version of Wikipedia and keys to 5,000 languages, project team members have said.
(The Arch Mission Foundation also launched a "Solar Library" in February 2018, on the maiden flight of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket. This library, a tiny quartz disk etched with the text of Isaac Asimov's seminal "Foundation" trilogy, is zooming around the sun aboard the Tesla Roadster that the Falcon Heavy lofted on that mission.)
Beresheet isn't the only payload taking flight tonight.
The Falcon 9 will also loft to Earth orbit the communications satellite PSN-6 (Nusantara Satu) for the Indonesian company PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara and an experimental U.S. Air Force satellite called S5. This latter craft will help test technologies for greater space situational awareness, Air Force officials have said.
SpaceX also plans to return the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket to Earth after today's launch. The booster is expected to land on the company's droneship "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean for later reuse.
This is the third flight for this Falcon 9 booster. The rocket launched 10 Iridium Next communications satellites on the Iridium-7 mission in July 2018, and later lofted the SAOCOM 1A mission in October of that year.
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.