‘We have not managed to land successfully’: Israel's moonshot fails

Theresa Obrien
April 12, 2019

Israel nearly rewrote the lunar history books on Thursday evening as spacecraft Beresheet (Hebrew for Genesis) failed to land safely on the Moon. He said scientists are trying to determine what caused the engine failure, dooming the spacecraft to travel too quickly to land safely.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the less-than-perfect ending to the story, suggesting that "if you don't succeed, try again".

The unmanned robotic lander suffered periodic engine and communication failures during the 21 minutes of the landing sequence, the support team said.

Crash debris from the uncrewed Israeli lander Beresheet will permanently occupy the lunar surface after SpaceIL's effort to land on the moon failed Thursday (April 11).

The sheer enormity of the undertaking makes it seem impossible, but thanks to some incredible rocket science, Israel has joined the short list of nations that have so much as sent a craft into the Moon's orbit.

It meant the country stopped short of joining agencies from the former Soviet Union, the USA and China as the fourth nation ever to land on the moon's surface.

"We are the seventh country to orbit the moon and the fourth to reach the moon´s surface", said another.

He nonetheless called the mission an "amazing success", for reaching the moon and coming so close to landing successfully. "We applaud @TeamSpaceIL for a tremendous scientific achievement, they made history by making Israel one of 7 nations who had ever orbited the moon", tweeted the Israeli government. The Beresheet lander ("in the beginning" in Hebrew, so named after an Israel-wide naming competition) was designed and built by SpaceIL from 2011 onwards for the Lunar X-Prize competition, and the project continued when the Lunar X-Prize was ended in 2018 without a victor, or even without an entry flying into space.

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The lander launched on the night of February 21, soaring into Earth orbit atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

To prepare for landing, the spacecraft's engines fired, as it needed to slow from more than 3,730 miles per hour to a full stop to touch down on the moon's surface.

A full scale model of the Beresheet moon probe.

Although the mission failed, it was relatively affordable compared with previous lunar-landing attempts.

"Putting a spacecraft on the Moon is a little bit of a kind of a weird project", Kahn said.

The final moon accident before Beresheet came in 1971, when Luna 18 crashed during an attempt to land on some lunar mountains near the edge of Mare Fecunditatis. NASA was also broadcasting the event. But Beresheet's failure marks the first accidental lunar crash in more than 48 years, following a successful Chinese landing January 3. "We're extraordinarily proud they made it this far".

Rob Westcott, senior propulsion engineer at Nammo, said: "We've never used an engine in this kind of application before".

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