Israel to launch country's first ever spacecraft to moon

Israel to launch country's first ever spacecraft to moon

JERUSALEM - An Israeli organisation announced plans Tuesday to launch the country's first spacecraft to the Moon in December, with hopes of burnishing Israel's reputation as a small nation with otherworldly high-tech ambitions.

The unmanned spacecraft, shaped like a pod and weighing some 585 kilogrammes (1,300 pounds) at launch, will land on the moon on February 13, 2019 if all goes according to plan, organisers SpaceIL told a news conference in Yehud, central Israel.

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

Its first task, however, will be to plant an Israeli flag on the moon, organisers said.

The project began as part of the Google Lunar XPrize, which in 2010 offered $30 million (25 million euros) in awards to encourage scientists and entrepreneurs to come up with relatively low-cost moon missions. Three young Israeli scientists, Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub, decided to join the fray.

"We met in a pub and started to discuss what it meant," Damari recalled.