Israeli lunar spacecraft completes first maneuver toward Moon

Beresheet is set to land on Sea of Tranquility on April 11.

Beresheet launches of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. (photo credit: SPACEX COURTESY OF SPACEIL AND IAI)
Beresheet launches of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Israel’s first lunar spacecraft, Beresheet (“Genesis” in English), successfully completed its first maneuver toward the Moon after detaching from its launcher and completing its planned orbit of Earth.
The lander will be captured by the moon when the lander's orbit around the Earth takes it into close proximity to the moon (which also orbits the Earth).
After two months, it is set to land in the Sea of Serenity, on April 11.
Scientists and technical staff at Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters were notified of the spacecraft’s high sensitivity toward the sun’s rays in the star trackers on board, but are hopeful that this issue can be resolved en route to the Moon.
Sunday’s maneuver toward the Moon took into account those problems identified by the star-tracker systems, and scientists decided to move forward with the mission.
Beresheet, with the go ahead from mission control, turned on its engine for the first time and successfully made its first maneuver toward the Moon just 69,400 km. (43,000 miles) from Earth’s surface. The spacecraft during this maneuver will at some point will come within 600 km. of Earth’s surface as it prepares for its next planned maneuver on Monday night.
Israel made its first step to the Moon late Thursday night, as the lunar spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in a mission that, if successful, will place the Jewish state in an exclusive club of nations capable of landing on the lunar surface.
If successful, the landing on the Moon will make Israel the fourth country to land on the lunar surface, after the former Soviet Union, the United States and China. It will be the first such space capsule to land on the Moon as the result of a private initiative, rather than a government-funded enterprise.
The project has been spearheaded by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries and has been in the making for several years.
“Eight years ago, we ventured on this journey that is now nearing completion.... I couldn’t be prouder than to give this gift to the people of Israel,” SpaceIL’s president and its largest funder, Morris Kahn, said. Other donations came from Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, the Science and Technology Ministry, the ISA, the Weizmann Institute and various private individuals.
The spacecraft is the smallest such craft by weight (around 1,300 lbs.) and measures only 1.5 meters by 2 meters. It cost only $100 million – far less than other larger and more expensive lunar spacecraft.
“For many months, our teams and IAI’s were engaged in testing the spacecraft and its systems, conducting complex experiments and preparing for every possible scenario of the mission,” SpaceIL CEO Ido Antebi said.
The spacecraft will traverse the longest distance ever to the Moon – some 6.5 million km. (around four million miles) before it lands. Beresheet will hurdle through space at up to speeds of 10 km. per second (36,000 km/hr).
Earlier this week, President Reuven Rivlin noted that not only is this a national and historic achievement, it also aims to inspire young Israelis to study STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and pursue their dreams of space travel.
In addition, the craft holds a “time capsule” of hundreds of files digitized on a disk, and contains drawings by Israeli children, the Bible, the national anthem, prayers, Israeli songs and a map of the State of Israel, along with other cultural items.
Beresheet is scheduled to be stationed on the Moon for generations to come.
Yafit Ovadia contributed to this report.