Last month Israel Aerospace Industries partnered with German spacecraft builder OHB to offer a version of the lander it built for SpaceIL to the European Space Agency for commercial delivery of payloads to the moon's surface.
A SpaceX rocket took off from Florida's Cape Canaveral on Thursday night carrying Israel's Beresheet spacecraft, which aims to make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first from the Jewish state. "Good luck, Beresheet!" wrote the 89-year-old Aldrin, who was the lunar module pilot when he and fellow astronaut and mission commander Neil Armstrong became the first two humans to walk on the moon on July 21, 1969.
An Israeli nonprofit called SpaceIL designed and developed the 1,322-lb robot called Beresheet, which means "in the beginning" - the first words in the Bible.
The two other payloads set for deployment are a telecommunications satellite for Indonesia and an experimental satellite for the U.S. Air Force.
SpaceIL started as a Google Lunar XPrize team and is backed by South African billionaire Morris Kahn. While most Falcon 9 missions to geostationary transfer orbit carry just one satellite at a time, PSN sought co-passengers in order to lower the cost of launching its Nusantara Satu satellite, formerly known as PSN-6.
The rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The journey to the surface of the moon is expected to take eight weeks.
SpaceIL pressed on, signing with Elon Musk's SpaceX to launch its craft on board a Falcon 9 rocket.
If the Israeli lander makes it to the moon, it will be the fourth nation to touch down on the natural satellite joining the US, Russia, and China. Once it lands, the probe will conduct various experiments on the Moon's surface, testing its magnetism and geology. The moon doesn't have a global magnetic field like Earth does, but specific regions and rocks are magnetized, as previous lunar expeditions have found. Mare Serenitatis is one of these regions, and Beresheet aims to collect more data about it. NASA and SpaceIL will share that data, as part of their flight support agreement.
It will circle Earth in ever bigger loops until it's captured by lunar gravity and goes into orbit around the moon.
SpaceX is broadcasting the launch of its mission starting 15 minutes before launch, or around 8:30 p.m. this evening. If successful, it would be the world's first private lunar landing.
If Israel's space venture proceeds as planned, it will become the fourth - and by far the smallest - country to do so.
SpaceX set a company record previous year with 21 launches for customers including commercial satellite operators and the United States military, and Thursday's launch is its 70th total.