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WATCH LIVE: Launch of Israel's historic moon mission

Israel was preparing to launch its first moon mission Thursday night sending an unmanned spacecraft to collect data to be shared with NASA.

Israeli space exploration firm SpaceIL, together with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), will launch a585-kilogram (1,290-pound) Beresheet (Genesis) spacecraft into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 20:45 EST (01:45 GMT).

Mission control will be in Yehud, near Tel Aviv.

So far, only the US, Russia and China have landed spacecrafts on the moon. The Chinese craft made the first ever soft landing on the far side of the moon on January 3.

“Israel actually has quite a good footprint in orbit around earth, both for defense reasons and communication reasons,” relays Prof. Oded Aharonson of Israel’s preeminent Weizmann Institute, explaining the significance of the launch for the Jewish state, which has several satellites.

Weather conditions at the launch site appeared to be favorable on Thursday, i24NEWS correspondent Michelle Makori reported overlooking the Kennedy Space Center.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was preparing to watch the launch of the Israeli spacecraft "Beresheet" (Genesis) from the IAI control room overnight Thursday at 03:45, Israel Standard Time (IST).

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and technology NGO SpaceIL announced the date at a press conference.

"We are entering history and are proud to belong to a group that has dreamed and fulfilled the vision shared by many countries in the world but that so far only three of them have accomplished," SpaceIL president Morris Kahn said.

NASA, which has installed equipment on Genesis to upload its signals from the moon, said last week it aims to land an unmanned vehicle there by 2024, and it is inviting private sector bids to build the US probe.

NASA plans to build a small space station, dubbed Gateway, in the moon's orbit by 2026. It will serve as a way-station for trips to and from the lunar surface, but will not be permanently crewed.

Genesis will make its 6.5-million kilometer (one million-mile) journey at a maximum speed of 10 kilometers per second (36,000 kilometers per hour), according to an IAI statement.

The mission added a time capsule to the spacecraft containing Israeli national, cultural and traditional symbols such as the flag, the Israeli Declaration of Independence, Hebrew songs, paintings by Israeli children, and a booklet written by a Jewish man of his personal account of the Holocaust.

With no plans to return to Earth, both the time capsule and spacecraft will remain on the moon indefinitely after the completion of the Israeli lunar mission. The project will measure the lunar magnetic field to help understanding of the moon's formation.

The cost of the project is some $95 million (84 million euros), with private philanthropists providing funding.

"This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers who managed to land a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding," the IAI statement said.

"Beresheet is the first spacecraft to land on the moon as a result of a private initiative, rather than a government."

The project started as a potential entry for the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered a $30-million reward to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to offer relatively inexpensive lunar missions.

The contest closed without a winner in March 2018 but SpaceIL decided to keep working on the challenge.

Tune in to i24NEWS at 3:45 GMT (8:45 PM EST) to watch the orbit.


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