Feb. 21 (UPI) -- SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket Thursday evening with a pair of satellites and an Israeli moon lander aboard. All three were successfully released into orbit.
Blastoff occurred right on time at 8:45 p.m. ET.
Just a few minutes after Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral, the first and second stages separated and the booster stage fell back to Earth, using its thrusters to slow its reentry and land safely on SpaceX's Of Course I Still Love You droneship.
"Successful deployment of the SpaceIL lunar lander confirmed, starting the spacecraft's two-month voyage to the Moon," SpaceX confirmed on Twitter, some 35 minutes after liftoff.
The Israeli-made lander was developed by SpaceIL, a privately-funded nonprofit. The group of scientists and engineers were originally part of the Google Lunar X Prize competition. They decided to press on after Google closed the contest without a winner.
The payload also includes an Indonesian communications satellite called Nusantara Satu and a small experimental satellite belonging to the U.S. Air Force. Both were deployed a few minutes after the lunar lander was released into orbit.
"Successful deployment of Nusantara Satu to geosynchronous transfer orbit confirmed-completing SpaceX's 70th mission!" SpaceX tweeted.
Though Nusantara Satu is the primary payload passenger, SpaceIL's lunar lander garnered most of the attention in the lead up to Thursday evening's launch. The lander -- named Beresheet, Hebrew for "Genesis" -- is the first privately funded lunar lander mission.
Both NASA and the Israeli Space Agency provided the mission with technological assistance. If successful, Beresheet would make Israel the fourth nation to land on the moon -- along with the United States, Russia and China.
"We are making history and are proud to be part of a group that dreamed and realized the vision that many countries in the world share, but so far only three have realized," Morris Kahn, president of SpaceIL, said in a press release.
Successful deployment of the SpaceIL lunar lander confirmed, starting the spacecraft's two-month voyage to the Moon pic.twitter.com/iMlVYJHef3- SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 22, 2019
Missions as complex as a moon landing have previously been the purview of only large and well-funded space agencies, but the growth of the private space industry and the development of shared payload technologies has opened up new opportunities for smaller, privately funded operations.
Both big and small space agencies are increasingly using mini satellites, called CubeSats, to carry out scientific missions and even create satellite communication networks.
Spaceflight Industries, a Seattle-based launch services and mission management group, helped find space for SpaceIL's lander inside the SpaceX payload. The company works to secure ride-sharing opportunities for both geosynchronous orbit and geosynchronous transfer orbit -- GTO and GEO -- missions.
"For GTO-1 and GEO ride-shares, depending on the sizes of the customers, we'll be able to re-use much of the design and hardware we've used for this mission," Ryan Olcott, the mission director for this Spaceflight ride-share, told UPI in an email. "More importantly though, we've now gone through all the planning and definition of our key operating mechanisms and environments. We'll be starting the next GTO mission we do with SSL with both a greater confidence and a lighter workload."