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The third is a small experimental satellite for the Air Force, coordinated by Spaceflight Industries, who also organised the Israeli moon lander.

Israelis swelled with pride overnight as many woke in the predawn hours to watch the Beresheet lunar spacecraft lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida atop a SpaceX rocket. The primary payload was the Indonesian Nusantara Satu communications satellite, also known as PSN 6.

Beresheet (Hebrew for "in the beginning") was put together by non-profit outfit SpaceIL to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE. The craft went up Thursday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 carrying a triple payload. The first soft landing on the moon came in 1966; executed by both the both Russian Federation and the United States; there was not another unmanned soft landing until China launched Chang'e 3 in 2013.

SpaceIL officials have said they hope Beresheet will help inspire Israel's defense-focused space program to pursue more science-oriented missions.

If Beresheet's landing is successful, it will make Israel the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon.

But some of the teams persisted, determined to land on the moon even without the incentive of $30 million in prize money. The contest requirements were that the vehicle would have to travel at least 500 meters on the lunar surface and be capable of transmitting HD videos and pictures back home.

Beresheet would mark the first non-government lunar landing.

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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.

Spacecraft from several countries, including India's Moon Impact Probe, Japan's SELENE orbiter and a European Space Agency orbital probe called SMART 1, have intentionally crashed on the lunar surface.

The Israeli team said glare from the sun on the spacecraft's sensors was making it more hard than expected for the spacecraft to orient itself according to the position of the stars as it prepared for its first orbit around the Earth, the first stage of its slow seven-week journey to the moon.

SpaceIL co-founder Yonatan Weintraub told Fox News in a statement, "After more than eight years of working with brilliant engineers, we are finally ready to launch our spacecraft to the Moon!" "So we have to do it by commercial launch". He said it was thrilling to witness the launch in person and to know Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was watching it live from the control center in Yehud, Israel.

The total cost of one of its Falcon 9 launches is estimated to reach £44 million ($61m), while each of its larger Falcon Heavy flights costs £65 million ($90m). This is what makes NASA's offer to track the spacecraft with its Deep Space Network and lunar orbiters so valuable.

Beresheet is created to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon's magnetic field.