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First Israeli spacecraft to land on moon next year

By Sommer Brokaw
First Israeli spacecraft to land on moon next year
This Israeli spacecraft will launch in February for an unmanned mission to land on the surface of the moon, SpaceIL announced Tuesday. If successful, it would be the first Israeli craft in history to make a lunar landing. Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA-EFE

July 10 (UPI) -- For the first time in its history, Israel will have a spacecraft on the moon next year, the SpaceIL corporation announced Tuesday.

A Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX will carry the craft to the moon from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Feb. 13, 2019. It will separate from the rocket at 37,000 miles above the Earth and enter an elliptical orbit and slowly expand until it's captured by lunar gravity.

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SpaceIL, a nonprofit founded in 2010, said on its website it's the only Israeli team participating in the Google Lunar XPrize competition -- a competition to land the first privately-funded unmanned spacecraft on the moon.

The opportunity to win $30 million through the competition ended in March, but now continues without a cash prize. Other countries also have groups in the competition, including the United States, Japan and India.

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Israel would become just the fourth country to make a lunar landing after the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.

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

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"It's about building ourselves a better future," said SpaceIL co-founder Yariv Bash. "Projects like the Google Lunar XPrize competition in space are needed to push humanity forwards."

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Another goal of the mission is to discover the magnetic mysteries of moon rocks, officials said. Billionaire businessman and SpaceIL project funder Morris Kahn said he'd also like to see the 2019 launch create an "Apollo Effect" -- the excitement in the United States after the 1969 moon landing that spurred further scientific research.

SpaceIL has so far spent about $89 million on the project.

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