The $100 million Beresheet mission couldn't afford its own rocket - even a little one - so the organizers opted for a ride share.
Nearly 34 minutes after launch, Falcon 9 reached the edge of space and Beresheet was jettisoned into Earth orbit. It's set to be the smallest spacecraft to ever land on the Moon. Once it lands, the probe will conduct various experiments on the Moon's surface, testing its magnetism and geology.
The craft was developed by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL as well as the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries.
The mission was originally intended for Google's Lunar Xprize, a competition created to encourage privately funded groups to send robotic landers to the moon. The competition officially ended with no winners on March 31, 2018, after Google ended its sponsorship. But that didn't stop SpaceIL from pursuing its goal.
"At SpaceIL we hope that the next generation of engineers and scientists will be able to bring Beresheet back to Earth", the company said. "Tiny, tiny Israel is about to become the fourth nation to land on the moon, and this is a remarkable thing because we continue to demonstrate our ability to punch far above our weight and to show off our skills, our innovation [and] our creativity in tackling any hard problem that could possibly exist".
Regardless of the competition, though, SpaceIL announced that it remained committed to continuing and completing its mission to land on the moon and advance science and technology education in Israel.
The Falcon 9 rocket will thrust Beresheet into a "long and complex" Earth orbit where it will spend roughly five weeks gradually widening its orbit until it is close enough to enter the moon's gravitational field.
If successful, Beresheet will end up as the prototype for a series of future moon landing missions planned jointly by IAI and Germany's OHB System on behalf of the European Space Agency. NASA's Surveyor 1 spacecraft touched down on the lunar surface later that year. Touchdown would be April 11 at the Sea of Serenity. The spacecraft will survive for only about two days before running out of power. NASA has a laser reflector aboard Beresheet and is offering its Deep Space Network for communication. NASA contributed the device to this mission as part of an agreement with SpaceIL that would allow the startup company to utilize the DSN for its moon mission.
SpaceX is targeting Thursday, February 21, for launch of the Nusantara Satu satellite from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After SpaceX launches the craft into orbit, it will travel to the moon over the course of the next two months or so.
"This is Uber-style space exploration, so we're riding shotgun on the rocket", Winetraub explained at a news conference on the eve of launch.
It is also carrying an Indonesian telecommunications satellite and an experimental US Air Force satellite.