Israeli lunar explorer Beresheet will be the first privately-owned spacecraft to land safely on the moon on Thursday. Scroll down to see it live.
If successful, the unmanned spacecraft built by the nonprofit group SpaceIL in collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries would usher in a new era of lunar exploration involving the private sector.
In order to achieve this, however, the Israeli spacecraft must tackle one of the biggest challenges of its lunar journey – the landing maneuver, whose final stage is controlled solely by the spacecraft's computer.
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In the final hours prior to the landing, the spacecraft's flight engineers are looking for a flat surface with a diameter of 30 kilometers (19 miles) on which to safely land beresheet when the surface of the moon is not hot from sunlight. (Moon temperatures range from 130 to 150 degrees Celsius on the moon – that's two weeks on Earth).
After Beresheet locates a location and positions itself approximately 15 kilometers above the surface, the lunarcraft receives the order to begin the landing and the lander will depart in the autopilot. The information received from the sensors is transmitted to the navigation control software, which calculates the appropriate commands to decelerate the engines of the spacecraft.
In this final phase, the engines slow down until they reach a height of 4 or 5 meters above the lunar surface. As soon as Beresheet is stationary, the engines are shut down and the spacecraft is gently dropped to the ground. The experts hope that Beresheet can survive the blow with the special suspension.
One concern is that if the spacecraft lands on a rock or crater and even a leg of the landing gear is unstable, the spacecraft could tip over and be unable to complete its mission. Other concerns relate to the risk that the main engine will not work properly or that the country sensor will malfunction, which has apparently never been tested under real field conditions.
After Beresheet had found his first major challenge of the journey-the spacecraft's engines slowing the pace to enter the Moon's gravity field-five more maneuvers were made to find the right path for a landing.
To get close to the moon, Beresheet circled the earth in ever-increasing orbits until it was about 400,000 kilometers from Earth. Among other spacecraft records, it has traveled the longest distance a man-made object has ever traveled to the moon. Beresheet's long route was designed to harness Earth's gravity to accelerate the spacecraft's speed, saving fuel and cost ,
To date, the only spacecraft landed on the Moon has been built by the superpowers of the world for billions of dollars. Built to cost US $ 100 million, Beresheet is important to demonstrate the economic potential of space exploration, which is expected to receive much of it from the private sector for commercial purposes in the coming years.
SpaceIL and the project's main user, businessman Morris Kahn, also hope that the scientific and technological achievement will trigger a "beresheet effect" among young people in Israel, as does the Apollo project's interest in science and technology – and engineering studies intensified in the United States, Apollo 11 landed on the moon.
The Beresheet project began as a template for the Lunar X competition, sponsored by Google and the XPrize Foundation. No contest won this competition, but the Israelis who submitted it remained. Hundreds of thousands of students in Israel have since learned about the mission.
On Thursday evening, numerous events were organized to follow the progress of the landing.
The Science and Technology Ministry has organized several such events in Kiryat Shmona, Hod Hasharon, Jerusalem, Givatayim and Mitzpeh Ramon, including activities for parents and children. Other activities are sponsored by Horizon, an organization of Israeli space pedagogues.