A few hours ago a Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from the Cape Canaveral base with the telecommunications satellite PSN 6 and as secondary payloads the S5 military satellite and SpaceIL’s Beresheet Moon lander. After almost 35 minutes, Beresheet separated from the rocket’s last stage of the rocket to begin the series of maneuvers that will slowly extend its orbit to bring it to the area of influence of the Moon, where it’s to land around April 11.
SpaceIL is an Israeli non-profit organization that developed the Beresheet lander to participate in the Google Lunar XPRIZE. According to the competition’s requirements, it had to be able to land on the Moon and then hop for 500 meters and land again. The deadline to obtain valid contracts for the launch was postponed a number of time times but none of the participating organizations managed to complete the development of their vehicle and to sign a contract for its launch therefore in March 2018 the competition was declared closed without winners.
Over the years, SpaceIL had already received funding and donations for the development of its lander and had reached important milestones when the Google Lunar XPRIZE was closed so its commitment didn’t stop. The organization also has educational purposes to stimulate interest in space missions, especially in Israel, and thus to inspire new generations to study science and technology subjects. Part of the SpaceIL activity consists of meetings with students and participation in events such as technology fairs and even science fiction conventions.
The Beresheet lander wasn’t pushed directly towards the Moon because after all it was a secondary payload in this SpaceX mission, which means it will have to perform a complex series of maneuvers illustrated in the SpaceIL video meant to have it captured by the Moon’s gravity on April 4 and then perform other maneuvers to get to the Moon landing.
In October 2018 SpaceIL and the Israeli space agency, which is working with the organization, announced a collaboration with NASA that will improve the tracking and communication possibilities with the Beresheet lander throughout its journey to the Moon and after the Moon landing. After the end of the Google Lunar XPRIZE it was decided to simplify the mission by eliminating the 500 meters of hopping after the first contact with the Moon surface so Beresheet will remain in its Moon landing area and will start collecting data with some instruments such as the magnetometer, which will detect data from that area.
The launch went as planned and the Beresheet lander is in orbit. This is only the initial part of SpaceIL’s mission but in a few weeks if all goes well Israel will become the fourth nation to have sent a spacecraft to the Moon after the USA, then the USSR and China.