SpaceIL to launch unmanned Moon probe in December

The SpaceIL moon landing craft

The SpaceIL moon landing craft

On Tuesday, the team announced its goal of a February 13, 2019, moon landing, but it has yet to set a specific launch date in December.

South African-Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn, president of SpaceIL, who has donated $27 million to the enterprise, was extremely excited: "The launch of the first Israeli spacecraft will fill Israel, in its 70th year, with pride".

The research, conducted in cooperation with scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, will use a magnetometer on the spacecraft to attempt to understand how the rocks on the moon received their magnetism.

Part of the Google Lunar X Prize competition was to design a space probe capable of moving 500m after landing. However, the competition expired this March, with the $20m grand prize for landing on the moon unclaimed.

The unmanned mission is a joint effort between private company Israel Aerospace Industries and nonprofit organization SpaceIL.

The $95 million project, largely funded by South African-Israeli billionaire Morris Kahn and other donors, aims to land on the moon on February 13.

Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, told a news conference in the Israeli town of Yehud on Tuesday that its probe would be the smallest yet to land on the Moon.

The Israeli spacecraft, about the size of a dishwasher, measure about 6.6 feet in diameter and about 1.65 feet in height. More than 400kg of that weight is fuel that will be burnt off by the time it lands on the Moon.

Since 1966, the United States and the former Soviet Union have put around 12 unmanned spacecraft on the moon using braking power to perform "soft" landings and China did so in 2013.

Four other teams are still competing against SpaceIL for the honour of winning the Google Lunar XPrize - Moon Express from the US, Team Indus from India, Hakuto from Japan, and Synergy Moon, an worldwide group.

"This is a tremendous project", Kahn said.

Ofer Doron, head of IAI's space division, said Israel was "going to show the way for the rest of the world" to send a spacecraft to the Moon at a reasonable cost.

It will be launched via a rocket from American entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX firm and its mission will include research on the moon's magnetic field.