Israeli spacecraft successfully 'captured' by the moon

'Beresheet' performs critical maneuver into orbit around the moon in preparation for landing on lunar surface.

Arutz Sheva Staff,

staff celebrates after successful space maneuver
staff celebrates after successful space maneuver
Eliran Avital

SpaceIL’s engineering team and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) this evening at 5:17 p.m. Israel team conducted the most critical manveuver to date of Beresheet’s journey to the moon – the Lunar Capture. This maneuver enabled the spacecraft to be captured by the moon’s gravity and begin orbiting the moon – and with the moon, orbiting the Earth.

Today’s maneuver moved the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit around the moon, with the closest point (perilune) 500 km to the moon, with the farthest point (apolune) 10,000 km from the moon. Unlike the longer orbits around the Earth, Beresheet’s first lunar orbit will last 14 hours. Before it lands on the moon, each orbit thereafter will take only two hours. At the beginning of this week, Beresheet reached, for the last time, the closest point to Earth in its last Earth orbit, only 1,700 km, and continued on course to the point where it could join the lunar orbit, 400,000 km from Earth.

At 5:18 p.m. Israel time the spacecraft’s engine activated for six minutes, and reduced its speed by 1,000 km/hour, from 8,500 km/hour to 7,500 km/hour, relative to the moon’s velocity. The maneuver was conducted with full communication between Beresheet’s control room in Israel and the spacecraft, and signals in real time match the correct course. In the coming week, with expected intense engineering activities, many more maneuvers will take Beresheet from an elliptical to a round orbit, at a height of 200 km from the moon. The maneuvers will aim to reduce the spacecraft’s distance from the moon and reach the optimal point to conduct an autonomic landing in the Sea of Serenity in the evening Israel time, April 11.

SpaceIL Chairman, Morris Kahn: “The lunar capture is an historic event in and of itself – but it also joins Israel in a seven-nation club that has entered the moon’s orbit. A week from today we’ll make more history by landing on the moon, joining three super powers who have done so. Today I am proud to be an Israeli.”

SpaceIL CEO, Ido Anteby: “After six weeks in space, we have succeeded in overcoming another critical stage by entering the moon’s gravity. This is another significant achievement our engineering team achieved while demonstrating determination and creativity in finding solutions to unexpected challenges. We still have a long way until the lunar landing, but I‘m convinced our team will complete the mission to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon, making us all proud.”

IAI CEO, Nimrod Sheffer: “After a challenging journey, we made tonight another Israeli record and became the seventh nation to orbit the moon. Even before Beresheet was launched, it already was a national success story that shows our groundbreaking technological capabilities. Tonight, we again reach new heights. In the coming week, our talented engineering team will work 24/7 to bring us to an historic event on April 11. Good luck Beresheet.”

Highlights of Beresheet’s journey up to the lunar capture:

  • The spacecraft has performed seven maneuvers

  • The spacecraft has traveled 5.5 million km (over 3.4 million miles) in its orbits and will travel one million more while orbiting the moon

  • Beresheet made 12.5 Earth orbits, including seven at an altitude of 70,000 km (nearly 44,000 miles), two at an altitude of 131,000 km (nearly 814,000 miles), two at an altitude of 265,000 km (nearly 165,000 miles) and 1.5 at 420,000 km (over 260,000 miles)

  • The craft has used 80 kg (176 pounds) of fuel so far

Beresheet has experienced two challenges, which the engineering team has been able to overcome: one with it’s star trackers, which were blinded by the sun more than expected, and the other involving undesirable restarts of the mission computer.

The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet was launched to the moon on February 22 at 3:45 a.m. Israel time (8:45 p.m. local time) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX Launchpad by a Falcon 9 rocket as secondary payload alongside two satellites. The first data from the spacecraft was received by 4:23 a.m. and at 4:25 a.m. Israel time, when Beresheet deployed its landing legs as planned.

Beresheet’s launch was historic, becoming the first Israeli spacecraft to travel beyond Earth’s orbit.

How did it all start?

Although this is a national and historic achievement, it is based on a private initiative conceived about eight years ago by the three founders of SpaceIL, with two main goals: to land an Israeli spacecraft on the moon and to inspire the younger generation to study science and technology.

To fulfill their dream, young entrepreneurs Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yehonatan Weintraub enrolled in the Google Lunar XPRIZE Challenge. The competition ended without a winner in March, 2018. However, SpaceIL announced it would continue working on its mission.

The world's first spacecraft built in a non-governmental mission

Since the establishment of SpaceIL, the task of landing an Israeli spacecraft on the moon has become a national project, but funded by donors, headed by Morris Kahn. This is the lowest-budget spacecraft to ever undertake such a mission. The superpowers that have landed a spacecraft on the moon have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding. The development and construction of the spacecraft with such a limited budget is a significant achievement in itself, both for the State of Israel and for the space industry worldwide. If the mission proves successful, it will be representing a technological breakthrough on a global scale.

The significance of the project for the State of Israel

Landing a spacecraft on the moon will represent an extraordinary achievement for the small state of Israel. The project demonstrates Israel's technological capabilities and opens many opportunities. They include promoting scientific education of the next generation: Since its founding, the NGO met with over one million students throughout the country. Secondly, the mission will advance and promote science and research. Finally, it would open a new horizon for the Israeli economy, thanks to its engineering knowledge and advanced development capabilities. The success of Beresheet is a symbol of Israel's success in these and other fields.

The development and construction process

The planning and development of the spacecraft included intensive work by dozens of engineers, scientists and staff. The development by SpaceIL and IAI started in 2015 and lasted until 2018. The spacecraft, which weighs only 600 kilograms, is considered the smallest to land on the moon. Beresheet is 1.5 meters tall, about two meters wide and carries fuel which represents about 75 percent of its weight. Its maximum speed will reach 10 km per second (36,000 km/h, or over 22,300 miles per second).

The Israeli flag on the moon, a selfie and a scientific mission in conjunction with NASA via the Israel Space Agency

Once landed on the moon, the spacecraft carrying the Israeli flag will begin taking photographs of the landing site and a selfie to prove Israel landed on the moon. The spacecraft has an important scientific mission to complete: to measure the moon's magnetic field as part of an experiment carried out in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. NASA is also participating in the mission under an agreement entered with the Israel Space Agency. NASA has installed a laser retro-reflector on the spacecraft and will assist in communicating the spacecraft on the moon.

The time capsule: a huge database about humanity

The spacecraft carries a time capsule -- a huge database of hundreds of digital files ranging from details about the NGO, the spacecraft and the crew of the project, national symbols, cultural items and materials collected from the general public over the years that Beresheet will place on the moon. The time capsule will remain on the moon even after the mission is completed. Since the spacecraft is not expected to return to Earth, the information it carries is destined to remain on the moon for an indefinite period and may be found and distributed by future generations.

Packing and transporting the spacecraft to the US launch site

In January 2019, the spacecraft was packed and flown to the U.S. launch site in a complex logistics operation. Beresheet was flown in a unique container, which underwent structural and engineering changes to accommodate the sensitive cargo. After arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, it was loaded onto a temperature-controlled cargo plane. Upon landing in Orlando, Florida, the spacecraft was transported by land to the launch site.

Partners and donors

IAI has been a full partner in the project since its inception. Over the years, additional partners have been added from the private sector, government and academia. The most prominent of them are the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Israeli Space Agency, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Israeli telecommunications firm Bezeq and others. Among the main contributors to the project are Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Sammy Sagol, Lynn Schusterman, Sylvan Adams, Stephen Grand and others. Philanthropist and businessman Morris Kahn took the lead in completing the mission by funding $40 million of the project, and in his role as president of SpaceIL.




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