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To the Moon! SpaceX to Launch Israeli Lunar Lander (and More) on Thursday

SpaceX will launch an Israeli robotic lunar lander during the company's Falcon 9 rocket launch tomorrow (Feb. 21). If the lander succeeds, this will be the first privately funded moonshot to reach the lunar surface.

The lander, called "Beresheet" (in the beginning), will launch at 8:45 p.m. EST (0145 GMT, Feb. 22) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. You can watch the launch live on courtesy of SpaceX or directly through SpaceX's webcast page or on Facebook via the lander's creators. 

The Beresheet lander is a joint venture between Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL — one of the participants in the Google Lunar X Prize, which challenged companies to land spacecraft on the moon — and Israel Aerospace Industries, the country's largest aerospace and defense company. [Israel's 1st Moon Lander: SpaceIL's Beresheet Lunar Mission in Pictures

An artist's depiction of the Beresheet lander on the moon's surface. (Image credit: SpaceIL)

While the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize challenge ended with no winner in 2018, several participating companies said they are continuing work on their concepts. The SpaceIL project will be the first of those designs to launch, and Israel now has a shot at becoming the fourth country to land a robotic probe on the moon — after the former Soviet Union, the United States and China.

Roughly 30 minutes after the Falcon 9 lifts off, Beresheet will separate from the rocket into a transfer orbit at an altitude of roughly 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers). (That's about 150 times the altitude of the International Space Station.) Two minutes after separation, the spacecraft will send out its first communication to its mission control center, in Yehud, Israel.

Then, the spacecraft will make a solo journey to the moon of about two months. During approach and after landing, equipment onboard the spacecraft will measure the moon's magnetic field and study lunar craters.

A photograph of the golden Beresheet payload nestled within the SpaceX Falcon 9 fairing in preparation for launch. (Image credit: Courtesy of SSL)

"Since the establishment of SpaceIL, the task of landing an Israeli spacecraft on the moon has become a national project with educational impact," the Israeli entities said in a joint press release. The project is principally funded by Israeli billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist Morris Kahn, who is the president of SpaceIL.

The lander won't be the only payload on tomorrow's SpaceX mission. The main satellite aboard the Falcon 9 is communications satellite PSN-6 (Nusantara Satu), owned by the Indonesian company PT Pasifik Satelit Nusantara.

Also onboard will be an experimental military satellite called the S5, which SpaceX will launch for the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. The small sat will operate in geostationary orbit as part of a test constellation of satellites for space situational awareness.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is pursuing a Ph.D. part-time in aerospace sciences (University of North Dakota) after completing an M.Sc. (space studies) at the same institution. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @HowellSpace.