SpaceX hopes to launch the first privately developed lunar lander toward the moon on Thursday night, using a towering Falcon 9 rocket.
If the moon mission’s launch and landing succeeds, Israel will enter history as the fourth country ever to set down a spacecraft on the surface of the moon.
An Israeli nonprofit called SpaceIL designed and developed the 1,322-lb robot called Beresheet, which means “in the beginning” — the first words in the Bible.
“I wanted to show that Israel — this little country with a population of about 6 or 8 million people — could actually do a job that was only done by three major powers in the world: Russia, China, and the United States,” Morris Kahn, a billionaire who funded about $43 million of the roughly $100 million mission, told Business Insider.R
SpaceX’s 23-story Falcon 9 rocket should lift off sometime between 8:45 p.m. and 9:17 p.m. EST tonight. The rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Beresheet is scheduled to reach the moon around April 4, then attempt a landing on April 11. A company representative declined to comment on SpaceIL’s mission ahead of launch, but noted that the “webcast will have more to say on the mission.”
SpaceX plans to stream live footage of the launch via YouTube, and you can watch the company’s broadcast using the embedded video player below.
SpaceX is broadcasting the launch of its mission starting 15 minutes before launch, or around 8:30 p.m. this evening.
SpaceIL’s Beresheet robot is just one of several spacecraft that are “ridesharing” on the rocket. The main payload is an Indonesian communications satellite called “Nusantara Satu” (also called PSN 6).
“Nusantara Satu is Indonesia’s first high-throughput satellite that will serve to improve internet connectivity in the region,” SpaceX said in a press release.
The 5-foot-tall Beresheet lander will be tucked into the rocket with Nusantara Satu.
“Its mission is to transmit photos and video of its new home and conduct scientific measurements,” SpaceX said of Beresheet.
Also piggybacking on the flight will be a US Air Force experiment called Air Force Research Laboratory S5— a microsatellite that’s designed to detect objects that orbit Earth near a region called geostationary orbit (which is about 22,300 miles away from the planet’s surface).
All three spacecraft will pop off of the Falcon 9 rocket between 33 and 44 minutes after launch, SpaceX said.
For this launch, SpaceX plans to reuse a rocket booster that’s already flown twice. Launching the refurbished booster for a third time could net SpaceX millions (if not tens of millions) of dollars.
On Wednesday, the US Air Force predicted a roughly 20% chance of launch delays due to unfavorable weather conditions. If the mission gets scrubbed because of wind, rain, or technical issues, SpaceX will have another chance tomorrow to try again.
“A 32-minute backup launch window opens on Friday, February 22 at 8:41 p.m. EST,” SpaceX said in its description of the upcoming launch broadcast.