SpaceX Falcon 9 aces launch and landing after "most challenging reentry" yet

Katie Ramirez
February 23, 2019

In the background played SpaceX's live launch broadcast from Hawthorne, California, where an announcer said the Falcon 9 first stage would attempt to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You under the harshest weather conditions to date.

The Israeli craft was placed in Earth orbit, from where it will use its own engine to undertake a seven-week trip to reach the Moon and touch down on April 11 in a large plain.

Beresheet will spend the next couple of months orbiting the Earth and then letting the moon's gravity pull it into the lunar orbit.

"This is a big step for Israel, but a giant step for Israeli technology", he said.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Thursday at 8:45 p.m. local time from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

For Israel, the landing itself is the main mission, but the spacecraft also carries a scientific instrument to measure the lunar magnetic field, which will help understanding of the Moon's formation.

NASA's Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s took about three days to get astronauts to the moon, but they used monstrous Saturn V rockets.

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"We'll keep analyzing the data, but bottom line is we entered the very exclusive group of countries that have launched a spacecraft to the moon", said Yigal Harel, head of SpaceIL's spacecraft program. The $100 million Beresheet mission couldn't afford its own rocket - even a little one - so the organizers opted for a ride share. "So we have to do it by commercial launch".

The rocket also contains an Indonesian satellite and a satellite of the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

But as the competition wore on, it became apparent that none of the companies were going to be able to meet the deadline to land on the moon, and so Google ultimately scrapped the competition in March 2018. NASA followed with the Ranger 4 spacecraft in 1962. Data will be relayed via the US space agency NASA's Deep Space Network to SpaceIL's Israel-based ground station Yehud. During the descent and after landing the lander should record video and take panoramic photos while transmitting the footage to a control room in Yehud. President Reuven Rivlin hosted a pajama party with schoolchildren, hoping the lunar mission will galvanize science education in Israel the way the Apollo space program did in the USA decades earlier.

Beresheet is only expected to survive on the lunar surface for about two or three days.

Following liftoff, SpaceX recovered the first-stage booster, which flew twice a year ago.

According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the booster could fly again as early as April in support of Crew Dragon's in-flight abort mission, although his implication that that test will occur in April directly contradicts a recent NASA schedule update that pegged the test no earlier than (NET) June 2019.

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