February 20 (UPI) – The world's first private earth mission, Moon Mooner, is expected to be launched in space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Friday.
The four-foot lander, which weighs just 440 pounds without fuel, was developed by SpaceIL, a non-profit organization based in Israel and privately funded. The team of scientists and engineers trained for the first time in 2011 was running for the Google Lunar X-Prize.
When Google closed the competition and withdrew the prize, SpaceIL continued by recruiting donors to fund its mission. Spaceflight Industries, a Seattle-based launch and mission management services group, helped connect SpaceIL to SpaceX.
Although SpaceIL gets the most attention, it's technically the third wheel. The SpaceX payload also includes PSN-6, an Indonesian telecommunication satellite and an unnamed US government satellite.
The three spacecraft will be released into a geostationary transfer orbit at an altitude of 37,000 miles. The lunar lander will use its small propellers to take an increasingly elliptical orbit around the Earth. After two months, the lander will be captured by the gravity of the moon. The spacecraft will perform two orbits around the moon before making a soft landing.
Four sturdy legs will help the craft to prepare for the impact of the landing.
"Many tests have been done to test and qualify the landing gear's ability to withstand launch and landing conditions," according to SpaceIL.
If the mission succeeds, Israel will be the fourth country to install a spacecraft on the surface of the moon, after the United States, Russia and, more recently, China.
Once on the moon, the lander will travel the lunar surface a distance of 1,600 feet, taking pictures to return to Earth.
NASA and the Israeli Space Agency have agreed to help the mission.
"Innovative partnerships like this one will be essential to go to the moon and create new opportunities," said NASA's executive director Jim Bridenstine last year.
NASA has provided the team with a network of laser reflectors that engineers have attached to the spacecraft. The matrix will allow other spacecraft to locate the landing gear after landing on the lunar surface. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter NASA will also attempt to document the descent and landing of the spacecraft.
"Every LG that carries an LRA, we can build a navigation system on the moon, providing more information to the orbiting satellites and future landers, both robotic and human," said to the Planetary Society, Stephen Cole, a spokesman for NASA.
The SpaceIL space probe will attempt to land inside Mare Serenitatis, a large dark lunar basin visible to the naked eye.
The main purpose of the mission is not scientific exploration. This is a proof-of-concept mission – proof that small privately financed spacecraft can visit other planetary bodies. It is also a national and educational mission.
"He's given a national mission: use the spaceship's inspiring story to create an educational impact on the next generation in Israel and around the world," according to SpaceIL.
The spacecraft will also carry a "time capsule" to commemorate the historic landings. The three discs will house Jewish prayers, Hebrew songs, the Israeli flag, the Bible, Israeli literature and Israeli schoolchildren, all in digital form.
"It's a very moving moment," said Yonatan Winetraub, one of three founders of SpaceIL. "It is very possible that future generations will find this information and want to know more about this historic moment."