Science/Tech

Israeli Spacecraft Beresheet To Make Historic Moon Landing On Thursday

The first privately financed spacecraft launched on the first privately owned rocket will land on the Moon Thursday. And it’s only expected to survive two days on the lunar surface.

Israel's Beresheet robotic lunar lander is set to touch down on the Mare Serenitatis after an arduous interplanetary journey that began with its lift-off as the payload of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Feb. 21.

The four-legged Beresheet will become the first Israeli spacecraft to land on the Moon. It will make Israel only the fourth nation to achieve this feat.

And the Israeli company that developed and built Beresheet, Space IL, will have beaten SpaceX to the honor of being the first private firm to land its machine on the Moon.

Weighing just 585 kg with fuel, this washing machine-sized spacecraft made its way to the Moon powered by a single British-made LEROS 2b liquid-propellant, restartable rocket engine. This versatile single engine was used to reach lunar orbit and will be used for deceleration and propulsive landing.

It took Beresheet almost two months to reach the Moon on this engine. In contrast, the more powerful Apollo spacrcraft made the journey in only three days.

SpaceIL will broadcast live video of the landing. It expects Beresheet to land sometime between 3 and 4 p.m. EDT on April 11.

On Monday, Space IL mission controllers fired Beresheet's engine to achieve an elliptical orbit around the Moon. During this operation, Beresheet photographed the Moon's far side from about 550 kilometers away. It also took several selfies with Earth as its background during its flight to the Moon.

SpaceIL is waiting for the precise moment to ignite Beresheet's thrusters one last time. The burn will slow down Beresheet, causing the four-legged robot to fall out of lunar orbit and gently touch down on the Moon's surface.

"This joint mission of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) will be broadcast live via satellite for a pool feed and live streamed with access to all media," said SpaceIL. The company added that the group will host a press conference immediately after the landing.

The mission cost about $100 million. Beresheet’s science payload consists of a magnetometer developed by the Weizmann Institute of Science and a laser retroreflector array from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

It also carries a digital "time capsule" containing over 30 million pages of data. This includes a full copy of the Torah, the English-language Wikipedia, children's drawings, a children's book inspired by the space launch, memoirs of a Holocaust survivor, Israel's national anthem (Hatikvah), the Israeli flag and a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Beresheet is only expected to last about two days on the lunar surface. It has no thermal control system and will eventually overheat and die. Beresheet stands 1.5 meters tall and is 2 meters in diameter. 

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