In DepthSpace

Israeli lander demonstrates a cut-rate route to the moon

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Science  29 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6434, pp. 1373-1374
DOI: 10.1126/science.363.6434.1373

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For Israel, the planned 11 April touchdown of the Beresheet moon lander will be a moment of national pride, as it becomes the fourth country to put a spacecraft on the moon, after Russia, the United States, and China. But for many, the feat, by SpaceIL of Tel Aviv, will mark a different milestone: If successful, Beresheet would be the first privately built spacecraft to reach the lunar surface, at a fraction of the cost of a government mission, so could herald a wealth of science instruments on the lunar surface in coming years. The $95 million Israeli mission itself carries two instruments, including a magnetometer that could shed light on when and how the moon acquired its curious magnetic field. Its achievement is a legacy of the Google Lunar XPrize, a competition launched in 2007 for companies to land on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send video. The race ended last year without awarding its $20 million main prize. But several of the prize teams are still at work, competing to carry NASA and commercial payloads to the lunar surface.