A group of private Israeli companies are joining the race to return to the moon, after NASA’s recent cancellation of a lunar mission and India’s announcement that in October it will send a rover to look for signs of water and nuclear fuel.
Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries will launch its mission to the Moon by the end of this year, they announced yesterday.
SpaceIL was one of five finalists that failed to claim any part of the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million twenty-first century space race to send the first private mission to the Moon. The prize, which is composed of several parts for achieving different technical milestones with robotic landers, expired earlier this year after numerous extensions. A U.S. company, Moon Express, got as far as obtaining government launch permission in 2016, but fell behind schedule like the other contenders.
The only entities to have conducted controlled landings on the Moon are the governments of the former Soviet Union, the United States, and China. The technical challenges remain vast and the companies and non-profits in the running for the first private landing are operating on budgets under $100 million. SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries have raised $88 million so far, CNET reports.
In a video, SpaceIL sketches out its approach. It involves a 1,300-pound lander piggybacking on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch whose primary payload is a communications satellite. The spacecraft will orbit the Moon for almost two months before landing, where it will record and send video and conduct some small science observations using a magnetometer.
“We will put the Israeli flag on the Moon,” SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby said at a press event, The Times of Israel reports.