Israeli unmanned spacecraft to land on Moon in 2019

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The spacecraft's design and development process began in 2013, two years after Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub founded SpaceIL and registered for the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. The spacecraft has four carbon fiber legs and fuel takes up two-thirds of its weight.

It will be launched via a rocket from Elon Musk's SpaceX firm this December, and it's expected to land on the moon on February 13, 2019.

If successful, SpaceIL's $95 million project, funded largely by billionaire Morris Kahn, will become the first private enterprise endeavor to match the Moon exploration achievements of Russian Federation, the United States and China.

The dainty spacecraft is just about 5 feet (1.5 meters) high and weighs 1,322 pounds (600 kilograms).

A group of private Israeli companies are joining the race to return to the moon, after NASA's recent cancellation of a lunar mission and India's announcement that in October it will send a rover to look for signs of water and nuclear fuel.

SpaceIL was the only Israeli contestant in the global Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.

After succeeding in raising the critical funds to continue its activity, SpaceIL announced that it was determined to continue on its mission and to launch its spacecraft by the end of the year, regardless of the competition.

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"What we're doing is we're trying to replicate the Apollo effect in the United States", Kahn told reporters, referring to the surge in interest in science and engineering after the USA space program landed on the moon in 1969.

At 60,000 kilometers (37,000 miles) above Earth the spacecraft will deploy. It will then ignite its engines and reduce its speed to allow the moon's gravity to pull it in, and will begin orbiting it. As soon as the spacecraft reaches the landing point it will be completely autonomous.

The plan calls for the lander to execute a series of in-space maneuvers, then touch down on the lunar surface next February to transmit imagery and measure the moon's magnetic field.

The program has always had STEM education as a secondary goal, aiming to encourage Israeli children to choose to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Over the years, additional partners from the private sector, government companies and academia have joined, including Weizmann Institute of Science; Israel Space Agency; the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space; Bezeq and others.

A goal of the mission is to spark interest in space among young Israelis.

For children from any country, SpaceIL introduced its Moon Kids website in English, chock full of fun interactive content about the moon and outer space.

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