Hawthorne-based SpaceX will attempt to launch 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 is an Indonesian communications satellite known as Nusantara Satu and operated by Pasifik Satelit Nusantara. The rocket will also be carrying an experimental U.S. Air Force low-orbit satellite.
But the most notable item aboard the rocket, which is scheduled to launch at 5:45 p.m. California time, is 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.”
If successful, Israel will join China, Russia and the United States as the only countries to ever successfully land a craft on the moon. The privately funded Beresheet is expected to take about two months to reach the moon.
The Falcon 9 rocket expected to be used for the launch has been flown by SpaceX in two previous missions. The company plans to try to again recover 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.
SpaceX’s fairing-recovery ship Mr. Steven has also made the trip to Cape Canaveral, suggesting the company will also make an attempt to catch the rocket’s “fairing,” or protective nosecone, in the vessel’s large netting as it falls back to Earth.
The launch will be the second of the year for SpaceX.
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