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Israel announces mission to land spacecraft on the Moon

Organisers hold a press conference on July 10, 2018 ahead of the planned launch of Israel's first lunar spacecraft
THOMAS COEX (AFP)

Israel announced on Tuesday that it will launch its first lunar mission in December, with the hopes of becoming the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon in February 2019.

Israeli space exploration firm SpaceIL, together with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), will launch a spacecraft into orbit via a SpaceX rocket in December, which they intend to land on the moon in February 2019.

"We will all remember where we were when Israel landed on the moon," Morris Kahn, one of the project's leaders, said announcing the mission.

So far, only the US, Russia and China have landed spacecrafts on the moon.

The project began as part of the Google Lunar XPrize, which offered $30 million (25 million euros) in prizes to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to come up with relatively low-cost moon missions.

With its 585 kilograms, two meters in diameter and a meter and a half high, the Israeli spacecraft will be the smallest to ever land on the moon, Ido Anteby, the CEO of the nonprofit SpaceIL said on Tuesday.

It will be launched via a rocket from American entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX firm and its mission will include research on the moon's magnetic field.

Its first task however will be to plant an Israeli flag on the moon, organizers said.

The IAI-built spacecraft, which was build in 2013, will be transferred to the United States in November, ahead of the launch.

The overall cost of the project is estimated to be around $95 million.

The first Israeli astronaut for NASA was Ilan Ramon, who was among those killed when Space Shuttle Columbia crashed on February 1, 2003. 

Ramon became the first foreign recipient of the US Congressional Space Medal of Honor, which he was awarded to him posthumously.

Space Shuttle Columbia was a 16-day flight dedicated to experiments and research. 

Before embarking on a career as an astronaut, Ramon was an elite pilot in the Israeli Air Force, and among the few pilots who took part in the 1981 airstrike on Iraq's nuclear reactor. 

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