Israel Will Attempt To Land On The Moon Today — Watch It Live

This artist illustration shows the Beresheet lunar lander resting on the lunar surface. If successful, the probe will become the first private spacecraft to land on the moon. SpaceIL (Update: Sad news. The lander apparently crashed. More details below including a last photo.)

This afternoon around 2-4 p.m. Central Time, Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft will attempt to soft-land on the moon. If successful, Israel will become the fourth country after the U.S., Russia and China to so. Beresheet, which means genesis, was created and launched by SpaceIL, a non-profit organization that promotes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in Israel. It’s funded through philanthropy and the Israel Space Agency.

A heavily cratered part of the moon photographed from orbit. SpaceIL

The spacecraft launched on Feb. 21 and achieved lunar orbit on April 4. Besides its educational goals, the mission is a demonstration of hardware and technology with a little bit of science tossed in. Beresheet (pronounced bear-eh-SHEET) will take photos and measure the moon’s local magnetic field. It also carries along a retroreflector that scientists back on Earth can ping with a laser and determine precise distances to the moon by measuring the amount of time it takes the beam to make the round trip.

This is the time capsule containing examples of Israeli music, art and photos. SpaceIL

You’ll also find a space-age time capsule among its baggage containing containing hundreds of digital files of drawings of the moon and space by Israeli children, Israeli art and literature, memories of a Holocaust survivor, a Hebrew Bible, sound files of Israeli songs and pictures of the country’s landscapes. Beresheet measures 5 feet high (1.5 meters) and 6.5 feet wide (2 meters); the entire mission cost about $100 million.

The Laser Retroreflector Array headed for the moon’s surface is smaller than a computer mouse. The device features eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame. This arrangement allows the device to reflect light coming in from any direction back to its source. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

With no way to cool itself during the heat of the 2-week-long lunar day or stay warm during the equally long night,  Beresheet will only operate for about two days on the lunar surface until it overheats. Since the retroreflector is passive, it’s expected to function for several decades.

You can watch the landing live this afternoon — just click over to SpaceIL’s Facebook page.

*** Update 6:30 p.m. — Beresheet likely crashed due to a faulty gyro and a temporary failure of the main engine. Communications were also lost for a short time. When contact was reestablished, the engine fired back up, but at that point the craft had lost too much altitude and couldn’t recover. At the time of the communications failure, it was traveling at about 2,100 mph and 74 miles from the landing site (see below).

A final selfie taken just a few minutes before communications were lost. SpaceIL
Follow the arrow to space probe’s landing spot in the north end of the Sea of Serenity.The Beresheet project began as an entry in the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition for privately-funded groups to land a spacecraft on the moon. SpaceIL with additions by the author

4 Responses

  1. Norman Sanker

    Hey Bob, where was Beresheet between Feb 21 and Apr 4? It doesn’t take that long to get to the Moon, does it? Just wondering.

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