A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sent the Israeli-made Beresheet lunar lander on the first leg of its journey to the moon tonight, as a ride-along payload accompanying Indonesia’s Nusantara Satu telecommunications satellite and a U.S. Air Force experimental satellite.
The mission marks a milestone for SpaceIL, which funded and built Beresheet (Hebrew for “In the Beginning”), and also for Seattle-based Spaceflight, which handled the pre-launch logistics for SpaceIL.
If the lander successfully touches down on the lunar surface after its circuitous two-month trip, that will make Israel-based SpaceIL the first privately funded venture to put a payload on the moon. It will also make Israel the fourth nation with a spacecraft on the lunar surface — after Russia, the United States and China.
Tonight’s launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida also represents Spaceflight’s first effort to get payloads to geosynchronous transfer orbit and beyond. The Seattle launch services company has negotiated the launch of more than 200 satellites, but previous missions had gone no higher than low Earth orbit.