Israel Poised to Join Cosmic Powers with Lunar Landing


Israelis are gearing up for an historic event Thursday evening, as the country sets off to become the fourth nation to complete a controlled landing on the moon. A problem with the spacecraft's engine was reported at 3:24 p.m. ET.

After landing, it will take a selfie. "It's a tremendous achievement up 'til now". The Beresheet team members worked in the control room as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watched from a spectator area.

But Beresheet accomplished plenty during its short life, as we shall see.

Beresheet was born out of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to land an unmanned probe on the moon. But should everything go according to plan, the spacecraft will begin to reduce its altitude and when it reaches an altitude of 5 km, it will begin measuring the moon's precise surface in preparation for its landing.

Shaped like a round table with four carbon-fibre legs, Beresheet stands about 1.5 metres tall.

The Beresheet lander was shipped to Florida and integrated into the payload for the Nusantara Satu mission and launched successfully on the night of February 21, 2019 aboard the Falcon 9 Block 5 vehicle into a geostationary transfer orbit.

The final manoeuvre brought the spacecraft into a tight elliptical orbit around the moon, just 15 to 17 kilometres from the surface at its closest.

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The Beresheet doesn't have backup systems so any major failure would have doomed the mission, but so far the craft has been functioning. No other spacecraft has taken such a long road to the moon. Beresheet then lowered its lunar orbit via a series of burns, the last of which occurred yesterday (April 10).

Excitement was high over the lunar mission in Israel, where it has been discussed in schools and promoted on television.

The SpaceIL spacecraft was originally designed to meet regulations set out by the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize competition, an global contest that challenged the world's engineers to create and send the first private lander to the moon. The space agency contributed a laser retroreflector array that is being used to help with ground tracking and mission communication, according to NASA.

The craft will be armed with instruments to measure the moon's magnetism, says Oded Aharonson who is heading the mission's science team.

And the lander has certainly done all of that. Those tasks involved traveling an additional 500 meters over the lunar surface (about a third of a mile) and sending back images and video.

Israeli scientists stand next to unmanned spacecraft, Beresheet.

Israel has already made history with its spacecraft.