The unmanned mission is a collaboration between privately owned Israel Aerospace Industries and the non-profit organization SpaceIL, which participated in the Google Lunar XPrize competition that ended in March with no ultimate victor.
Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, told a news conference in the Israeli town of Yehud on Tuesday that its probe would be the smallest yet to land on the Moon. 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.
"We will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon", Morris Kahn, one of the project's leaders, said announcing the mission. The spacecraft will be launched as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and its journey to the moon will last about two months, ending on its expected landing date. "Projects like the Google Lunar XPrize competition in space are needed to push humanity forwards".
SpaceIL is backed mainly by private donors, including United States casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and billionaire Morris Kahn who co-founded Amdocs, one of Israel's biggest high-tech companies.
SpaceIL and the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries plan to launch their unmanned craft in December hoping to become the first non-governmental entity to land a spacecraft on the moon. SpaceIL was the first of 16 Google Lunar XPRIZE competitors to sign a launch contract and one of only five teams to reach the finals.
SpaceIL President Morris Kahn has donated about $27 million to the effort and made a decision to proceed even after the contest deadline passed and effectively ended without any finalists achieving the goal. The company undertook to launch its spacecraft this year, and has now announced its timetable for doing so.
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The probe weighs approximately 600kg on Earth but that weight will drop down to 180kg in the Moon's lower gravity pull.
Once it touches down on the moon, the spacecraft will use its cameras to take photos and video of the lunar surface.
SpaceIL aims to set in motion an "Apollo effect" in Israel: to encourage the next generation of Israeli children to choose to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); to change their perception of these subjects; to generate a sense of capability; and to allow them to dream big dreams even in our small country.
It will be launched via a rocket from American entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX firm and its mission will include research on the moon's magnetic field.
Ofer Doron, director of Israeli Aerospace Industry Program with the space craft.
But SpaceIL has continued to work on its moon mission.