SpaceX has completed one of its most challenging missions yet. The company launched what may become the world’s first privately-owned lunar lander toward the surface of the moon on Thursday, before successfully landing the Falcon 9 rocket with the highest reentry heating ever. The rocket took off from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:45 p.m. Eastern as scheduled, landing eight minutes and 48 seconds later.
The landing marks another successful milestone for SpaceX, which aims to refine its landing technology to save more rockets and reduce costs further. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that the company’s video feed showed burning metal sparks, while manufacturing engineer Jessie Anderson said during the feed that the landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship was completed despite “challenging conditions.” The mission was the third for the rocket in question, a “Block 5” core dubbed “B1048” that previously flew on the July 25 Iridium NEXT-7 and the October 8 SAOCOM 1A missions last year.
The rocket sent up three spacecrafts, covering a United States Air Force satellite, an Indonesian communications orbiter, and the Beresheet lander. The latter craft is the1,290-pound lunar landernamed after the Hebrew word for “Genesis,” privately funded by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL. The launch could make Israel the fifth country to have sent a lander to the moon. The lander is set to take two days to make its way to the moon, where it will transmit video footage back to its owners. It’s also equipped with the country’s declaration of independence, a copy of the Hebrew Bible, and a memorial in dedication to a Holocaust survivor.
The rocket could fly again very soon. Musk wrote on Twitter that the rocket’s next mission will be an in-flight abort test for the Crew Dragon in April. The company is working to develop a new version of its Dragon capsule to send humans into space, which could make it the first company to send American astronauts into space from American soil. SpaceX and Boeing, the latter of which is developing the CST-100 capsule, will work with NASA to send astronauts to the International Space Station.
Before the April launch, SpaceX is scheduled to hold its first “Demo-1” uncrewed launch of the capsule at 2:48 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, March 2, on board a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
If all goes to plan, SpaceX could hold its first manned demonstration flight in the summer.