Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)’s first lunar spacecraft began a historic journey to the moon on Jan. 17, when it was transported in a cargo plane from Ben-Gurion International Airport to Orlando, Fla., ahead of launching from SpaceX Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in mid-February.

SpaceIL and IAI packed the 180-kilogram spacecraft into a special temperature-controlled, sterile shipping container, built to protect the spacecraft and ensure it arrives safely at the launch site.

After landing at Orlando International Airport, the spacecraft—named Beresheet (Hebrew for “in the beginning” and the first weekly portion of the Torah)—will then be driven to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it will be added as a secondary payload by launch service-provider Spaceflight. It will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket together with a geostationary communications satellite built by SSL.

“After eight years of hard work, our dream has come true: We finally have a spacecraft,” said SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby. “Shipping the spacecraft to the United States is the first stage of a complicated and historic journey to the moon. This is the first of many exciting moments, as we look forward to the forthcoming launch in Cape Canaveral.”

Eyal Shitrit, IAI director of logistics Eyal Shitrit, said that though IAI has extensive experience in complex shipping projects, “the transporting of Beresheet is a unique challenge since this is a once-in-a-lifetime mission, and there is no backup plan. This spacecraft must arrive safely.”

In addition to the container holding Beresheet, two more containers will be included in the cargo plane, which itself is temperature-controlled. SpaceIL and IAI engineers will accompany the spacecraft on the flight to Florida, and more engineers will join them in Cape Canaveral.

Beresheet will undergo final tests before being launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Prepping to load the first Israeli lunar spacecraft, named “Beresheet,” from Israel on Jan. 17, 2019, to be flown to Florida ahead of SpaceIL’s historic mission to the moon in mid-February. From left: Israel Aerospace Industries Space Division general manager Opher Doron; SpaceIL president Morris Kahn; and SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby. Photo by Tomer Levi.
The first Israeli lunar spacecraft, named “Beresheet,” was loaded into a shipping container on Jan. 17, 2019, in Israel to be flown to Florida ahead of SpaceIL’s historic mission to the moon, scheduled for mid-February. Photo by Tomer Levi.

Upon completing its lunar mission—the first in Israel’s history and the first that’s privately funded—Israel would join superpowers China, Russia and the United States in landing a spacecraft on the moon.

Since the establishment of SpaceIL, the task of landing an Israeli spacecraft on the moon has become a national project, with educational impact, funded mainly by Morris Kahn, a philanthropist and businessman who took the lead in completing the mission, serving as SpaceIL’s president and financing $40 million.

“The excitement we all feel today will only intensify moving forward, and I can’t wait for the next milestone,” said Kahn. “This is only the beginning.”

Additional donors include Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, whose $24 million contribution enabled the project to continue; Lynn Schusterman; Steven and Nancy Grand; Sylvan Adams; Sami Sagol; and others.

The first Israeli lunar spacecraft, “Beresheet,” being driven from Israel Aerospace Industries Space Division facilities to Ben-Gurion International Airport, where it was packed into a cargo plane, on Jan. 17, 2019. Photo by Eliran Avital.