Israel to join lunar club with moon quest

Israel's first spacecraft built to land on the moon is set for launch from Florida.
Israel's first spacecraft built to land on the moon is set for launch from Florida.

Israel's first spacecraft built to land on the moon is set for launch from Florida in a mission that, if successful, would make the Jewish state only the fourth nation to achieve a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface.

The unmanned robotic lander dubbed Beresheet - Hebrew for the biblical phrase "in the beginning" - was due for lift-off Thursday atop a Falcon 9 rocket launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX company from Cape Canaveral.

If all goes according to plan, Beresheet, about the size of a dishwasher, will arrive on the near side of the moon in mid-April.

Beresheet was one of three payloads to be carried aloft by the SpaceX rocket. The two others are a telecommunications satellite for Indonesia and an experimental satellite for the US Air Force.

So far, only three other nations have carried out controlled "soft" landings on the moon - the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.

The US Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon - the only ones yet achieved - between 1969 and 1972, with about a dozen more robotic landings combined by the United States and Soviets. China made history in January with its Chang'e 4, the first to touch down on the moon's dark side.

Beresheet would mark the first non-government lunar landing. The 585kg spacecraft was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and state-owned defence contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

Australian Associated Press