Hawthorne-based SpaceX successfully launched a rocket Thursday from Cape Canaveral carrying three payloads, including a lunar lander that could make Israel the fourth country to ever deposit a spacecraft on the moon.
The primary payload aboard the Falcon 9 rocket was an Indonesian communications satellite known as Nusantara Satu and operated by Pasifik Satelit Nusantara. The rocket was also carrying an experimental U.S. Air Force low-orbit satellite.
But the most notable item aboard the rocket, which launched at 5:45 p.m. California time, was the Israeli Beresheet lunar lander. Beresheet, the Hebrew word for “in the beginning,” was designed by the nonprofit SpaceIL, a team of engineers who began the project for the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which challenged participants to build, launch and land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. The competition ended without a winner, but SpaceIL pressed forward “to inspire the next generation in Israel and around the world to choose to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
It’s expected to take about two months for the lander to reach the moon.
If the craft is landed successful, Israel will join China, Russia and the United States as the only countries to ever successfully land a craft on the moon.
The Falcon 9 rocket used for the launch was flown by SpaceX in two previous missions. The company again successfully recovered the first stage of the rocket by landing it on the barge “Of Course I Still Love You” floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX has pioneered efforts to recover its rockets for reuse in future missions to dramatically cut costs.
The launch was the second of the year for SpaceX.
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