beresheet moon

Israeli spacecraft crashes during Moon descent

Image credit: reuters

An Israeli-built spacecraft that was to be the first private mission to the lunar surface crashed during touchdown following a series of technical failures.

Dubbed Beresheet (Hebrew for the Biblical phrase “in the beginning”), the lander would have propelled Israel into a small group of countries that have landed on the Moon.

The unmanned robotic lander suffered periodic engine and communications failures during the landing sequence, which lasted around 21 minutes, the support team said. Opher Doron, general manager of the space division at Israel Aerosapce Industries (IAI) explained: “It seems that a failure in our inertial measurements unit caused a chain of events in the spacecraft avionics which cut off the engines and caused us to lose the mission.”

Only three countries have landed on the Moon thus far: the US, Soviet Union and China. US Vice President Mike Pence recently said that he wants his country to return there with human passengers by 2024.

Beresheet would have been the first craft to land on the moon that was not the product of a government programme. It was built by state-owned IAI and Israeli non-profit space venture SpaceIL, with $100m (£76m) funded almost entirely by private donors.

beresheet moon

Photo of the Moon taken by Beresheet

Image credit: reuters

The spacecraft travelled through space for seven weeks in a series of expanding orbits around Earth before nearing the Moon last week. The final manoeuvre brought the spacecraft into a tight elliptical orbit around the moon, just 15-17km from the surface at its closest. The four-legged spacecraft was around the size of a washing machine and planned to land in the Sea of Serenity on the northern hemisphere of the moon’s near side.

At launch it weighed 585kg, most of which was fuel burned during its circuitous flight path of around 6.5 million km. A direct route from the Earth to the moon covers roughly 386,000 km.

The plan was for Beresheet to measure the magnetic field at the landing site and send back data and pictures. It also included a time capsule which contained a picture of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died on the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 - as well as a lunar library containing 30 million pages on a disk from the US-based Arch Mission Foundation.

The US Apollo program tallied six manned missions to the moon - the only ones yet achieved - between 1969 and 1972, and the United States and Soviets conducted a total of about a dozen more robotic landings between them. China made history in January with its Chang’e 4, the first craft to touch down on the dark side of the moon.

It was launched atop a SpaceX rocket, another private entity, alongside an Indonesian communications satellite in February.

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