Update: Success! All payloads deployed successfully. Now we just have to wait on that moon landing…
Calling all lunatics — the first fully private moon landing mission is about to take off from Cape Canaveral. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander is set to take off about an hour from now, at 5:45 Pacific time. Watch it right here!
The launch isn’t just the lander — in fact, the lander is only a small part of the payload. The primary passenger is Nusantara Satu, an Indian communications satellite that will provide connectivity to rural areas in the country difficult to reach by ordinary means. Once it gets to its geosynchronous orbit it will deploy the U.S. Air Force Research Lab’s S5 experimental satellite, which will track objects and debris around that altitude.
But by the time those deploy (about 44 minutes after launch), Beresheet will be well on its way; it’s entering a transfer orbit with an eye to lunar insertion and touchdown on the surface there in April.
Should it accomplish its task, the Israeli satellite will be the first private mission to land on the moon. So far it’s just been us, Russia and China — others have passed by or orbited, to be sure, but no one has made a soft landing and taken pictures, as Beresheet intends to do.
It was originally planned to do this for Google’s ill-fated Lunar Xprize, which went unclaimed despite serious interest — the truth is it was just a bit too ambitious for its own good. But several of the companies and teams that entered are still going strong, moving forward at their own paces.
At around $100 million, Beresheet will be the cheapest moon landing mission by far, and as the first to do so on a privately engineered and built (not to mention previously flown) rocket, as a secondary payload and with a private launch coordinator… let’s just say that it’s likely to set records all over the place if all goes well.
The first thing that needs to happen, of course, is takeoff. So tune in below at 5:45: