An Israeli-built spacecraft financed through donations from billionaire philanthropists is set to make history Thursday when it tries to become the first privately-funded probe to land on the Moon.
If successful, the landing will make Israel the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface, and the first non-superpower to achieve the feat after Russia, the United States and China.
But mission managers caution the landing is risky. The mission’s $100 million budget, relatively modest for a lunar probe, forced engineers to design a spacecraft with few backup systems, meaning a single failure in a critical component could doom the landing.
“It’s extremely exciting, and quite risky,” said Opher Doron, general manager of the space division at spacecraft-builder Israel Aerospace Industries, in an interview with Spaceflight Now before the mission’s launch in February. “There’s no guarantee of success. There never is in space, but there’s even less so in this case. But we’ve done a lot of testing, a lot of engineering, and now we’ll be doing a lot of praying.
“What we are trying to do here is take $100 million and put a few kilograms on the Moon, but we are doing it at a ...