Today, an Israeli non-profit organization will attempt to land a small robotic spacecraft on the surface of the Moon. If successful, it will be Israel’s first lunar landing, and the first time that a privately funded vehicle has touched the surface of the Moon.
The lander en route to the Moon this afternoon is called the Beresheet, and it was developed by an Israeli organization called SpaceIL, a former team in the Google Lunar X Prize competition. Beresheet was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on February 21 and deployed in a wide orbit around Earth. The lander periodically burned out its main engine in space, extending its orbit further and the parent to reach the Moon. Last week, the lander burned its engine again near the lunar surface, slowing it enough for it to enter the orbit of the Moon.
A successful landing will make Israel the fourth country to land on the Moon.
Since then, the lander has been slightly refining its path around the Moon, getting closer to the lunar surface. Now, it’s ready to go out of orbit and hit the ground. The mission team will send a series of commands to Beresheet to initiate the landing process, which should begin around 3:05 PM ET. The spacecraft will restart its main engine, slowing its speed from 3,700 miles per hour to zero. At about 16 feet or more above the surface, the Beresheet’s engine will shut down and it will drop freely to the surface. The touchdown is scheduled for around 3:25 PM ET.
Once on the Moon, Beresheet will take images and video of the surface, as well as study the magnetic field of its landing site, a region known as Mare Serenitatis or the Sea of Serenity. But the SpaceIL landing has less to do with science and more to do with demonstrating what can be done with private money. The team’s budget was only $ 90 million, of which $ 2 million came from government resources. A successful lunar landing will be a big step forward for the private space industry, and it will also make Israel the fourth country to land on the moon, after the United States, Russia and China. SpaceIL is also poised to receive an additional $ 1 million award from the X Prize Foundation if its landing is successful.
The mission team plans to provide live coverage of the landing starting at 2:45 PM ET, with views from the control room and hopefully some shots of the Moon. Check back then to see what a historic moon landing could be.