Israel's 'Genesis' spacecraft gets special passenger before 2019 launch to the moon

If successful, the mission will be Israel's first lunar spacecraft and the country's first private one.

Israeli scientists are adding final touches to the country's first lunar spacecraft, which now has a special passenger as of Monday that will accompany the journey early next year.

The spacecraft, once called 'Sparrow' and now officially named 'Genesis' will carry a time capsule of digital discs filled with glimpses and memorabilia of the life and times in Israel. It was ceremoniously placed in a space pod by the company's founders in white dust coats at the plant where the spacecraft is being built and tested.

On the disc are drawings by children, pictures of Israeli symbols like the flag, Israeli songs and a booklet written by a Jewish man of his personal account of the Holocaust.

Yariv Bash (right), Yonatan Winetraub (middle) and Kfir Damari (left), founders of SpaceIL, insert a time capsule into the Genesis spacecraft on 17 December. Image credit: Yoav Weiss

Yariv Bash (right), Yonatan Winetraub (middle) and Kfir Damari (left), founders of SpaceIL, insert a time capsule into the Genesis spacecraft on 17 December. Image credit: Yoav Weiss

One of the founders of the nonprofit organisation behind the launch, SpaceIL, compared the time capsule to prayers written on bits of paper that worshippers stuff into Jerusalem's Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites.

"Today we are putting all those dreams on the spaceship like you would take a note and put it in the Kotel, wishing for a bright future," Yonatan Winetraub, using the Hebrew word for the Western Wall, said according to AFP.

The spacecraft weighing 585 kilograms is due to launch in February 2019, though a precise date has not been set.

'Genesis' will be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX and take around two months and a half to arrive at the moon.

The Genesis spacecraft's path to the moon. Image courtesy: SpaceIL

The Genesis spacecraft's path to the moon. Image courtesy: SpaceIL

After separating from the launch rocket, the spacecraft will enter an orbit around Earth. After completing a few orbits, at a precise point in time, it will begin its journey to the moon. The entire journey to the moon is expected to last about 2.5 months from launch to landing.

The process of orbiting the moon is expected to take somewhere between two weeks and a month, till it reaches an opportune time to make a touchdown.

In addition to the spacecraft’s trajectory, SpaceIL has also chosen a safe landing site on the moon, and backups if need be. The lander will touch down in Mare Serenitatis, the "Sea of Serenity," shown as the larger circle. The specific landing site is in the inner circle.

Another big player in space joined the company's mission in October. NASA announced it would provide SpaceIL with observations from a Moon-orbiting spacecraft, a laser retroreflector for the lander, and communications support during the mission.

The partnership was made under the agency's new Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program, or LDEP, part of the Trump administration's plans to return humans to the surface of the Moon.

SpaceIL's chosen landing site on the moon. Image courtesy: NASA/The Planetary Society

SpaceIL's chosen landing site on the moon. Image courtesy: NASA/The Planetary Society

The launch will be from Cape Canaveral in the United States. The cost of the project has risen since its days at the Lunar Xprize to roughly $95 million (€84 million), with private philanthropists providing funding.

Organisers say if it is successful it will not only be Israel's first spacecraft to land on the moon, but also the first private one.

With inputs from AFP

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