If successful, Israel will be the fourth country to carry out a controlled "soft" moon landing, after U.S., Russia, China.
The time capsule placed on the spacecraft set to take off for the
moon in early 2019
Israeli engineers on Monday added the final element to a spacecraft destined for the moon – a digital time capsule – saying they aim to send the craft up early next year and land it between the landing sites of Apollo 15 and 17.
It will be the first attempted moon landing since 2013, and if successful, will make Israel the fourth country to carry out a controlled "soft" landing of an unmanned vessel on the moon.
Since 1966, the United States and the former Soviet Union have landed around a dozen vessels on the moon, while China carried out the last "soft" landing, in December 2013.
"The spacecraft is completely built, tested ... and will be ready to ship to Cape Canaveral in a few weeks," said Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, the non-profit organization that has led the project.
Israel has launched satellites before, but this is the first longer-range Israeli spacecraft of its kind.
The craft, called "Beresheet" ("Genesis"), is shaped like a round table with four carbon-fiber legs. It stands about 1.5 meters tall and weighs 585 kilograms (1,290 pounds), with fuel accounting for two-thirds of the weight.
The time capsule is a single, space-resilient disc, roughly the size of a CD, that holds digital files of children’s drawings, photographs and information on Israeli culture and the history of humanity.
"The capsule will remain on the moon and stay in the environment of the moon and maybe in a couple [or] tens of years someone will send a spacecraft to bring it back," Anteby said.
The spacecraft also carried a device to measure the moon’s magnetic fields.
SpaceIL is backed mainly by private donors, including from the United States. It was founded in 2011 by a group of engineers with a budget of about $95 million. State-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries has collaborated in the project.
Beresheet will blast off from Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early in 2019, after an initial December date was pushed back. At 60,000 kilometers (37,000 miles) above Earth, it will split off from the Falcon launch vehicle. It will at first orbit Earth in expanding ellipses until, about two months later, it crosses into the moon’s orbit. It will then slow and carry out a soft landing designed to cause no damage to the craft.
"Our landing site is located somewhere between the landing sites of Apollo 15 and Apollo 17," Anteby said. "It's a flat area, but it still has small craters and a lot of boulders."
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