Update 12/04/2019: The Israeli spacecraft crashed on the surface of the Moon just moments before touchdown. Read all about it right here.
By the end of today, Israel could become the fourth “lunar nation,” joining the US, the former Soviet Union, and China as the only Earthly countries to soft land on the Moon. Here’s how you can watch the historic moment live.
Just after 7pm UTC (8pm BST, 3pm ET, 12pm PT) on April 11, SpaceIL will attempt a soft landing on the lunar surface with its uncrewed Beresheet spacecraft. The whole event will be live-streamed from 6.45pm UTC onwards in the YouTube player below.
Beresheet’s mission has already seen Israel become the seventh country to orbit the Moon, alongside the US, Russia, China, India, Japan, and the European Space Agency. If they pull off tonight's landing, it will also be the first privately funded enterprise to land on the Moon as well since SpaceIL is a nonprofit Israeli space company.
With a price tag of just $100 million, the whole venture is surprisingly low-cost for a mission to the Moon.
Built by Israel Aerospace Industries and developed by SpaceIL, the Beresheet spacecraft is a washing machine-sized lander whose name means “Genesis” in Hebrew. It was launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on February 22 and – after traveling over millions of kilometers around the Earth three times, edging ever closer to the Moon – entered lunar orbit last week on April 4.
The plan is to bring Beresheet into close proximity to the Moon then use its engines to “back peddle," slowing down the spacecraft until it comes to a complete standstill a few meters above the surface. When it reaches a stable position just 5 meters (~16 feet) above the surface of the Moon, the engines will be switched off completely and the craft will freefall to the ground with the Moon’s gravity.
The landing site it's aiming for is in the northeastern part of Mare Serenitatis in the northern hemisphere of the Moon. It will be in good company here, just a few hundreds of kilometers east of the Apollo 15 landing site and a similar distance northwest of the Apollo 17 site.
Along with capturing images and taking measurements of the Moon's mysterious magnetic fields, the team is also hoping to plant an Israeli flag on the lunar surface. Unfortunately, none of this will be around for long. Within just two days, the lander is expected to burn up under the 130°C (266°F) daytime temperatures of the Moon. It will leave behind a time capsule full of digitalized documents, including the English-language Wikipedia library, the Torah, and Israel's declaration of independence stored on a disc made of nickel that can withstand heat 10 times greater than that experienced on the Moon.
Of course, this all depends on whether SpaceIL actually pulls off the perilous landing. However, in their mind, there no doubt about it.
"We don't have the word ‘attempt’ in our dictionary, only ‘success,’” SpaceIL tweeted earlier today.