An Israeli spacecraft has a shot Thursday to orbit around the moon with a six-minute engine firing, a critical maneuver that will set up for the privately funded probe's historic landing attempt on April 11.
The hydrazine-powered main engine mounted to the bottom of the Israeli Beresheet Moon Lander is set to ignite around 1415 GMT (10:15 EDT). The six minute firing will reduce Beresheet's speed relative to the moon by more than 600 mph (enough 1,000 miles per hour), enough for the moon's gravity to capture the spacecraft in an elongated path.
If the robotic boats fail Thursday, then will continue past the moon and escape the Earth's gravitational concept to go deeper into the solar system and bring the mission to an end.
"It's a simple maneuver, but it's very important and very critical," says Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, the nonprofit organization that led to the development of the Beresheet mission.
Beresheet aims to become the first privately funded spacecraft to encircle another planetary body after Thursday's moon capture maneuver. With a successful touchdown on April 11, the craft becomes the first private probe to land on the moon.
The spacecraft will target a landing in Mare Serenitatis or Sea of Serenity, the region in the upper right part of the moon as seen from the ground.
Beresheet has circled the Earth since its launch on February 21 from Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The landlord traveled into space as a piggyback payload on Falcon 9, which joined an Indonesian communications satellite and an American air force space surveillance satellite on the same rocket.
Falcon 9's top stage released Beresheet in an elliptical orbit that spans as high as 43,000 miles (69,000 miles) in height. After separation, the spacecraft inserted its four landing legs. With lander gear extended, the Beresheet has a diameter of about 7.5 meters (2.3 meters) and measures 4.9 meters (1.5 meters) high.
A series of main engine burns nudged Beresheet in longer lanes that took the spacecraft farther away from Earth.
"Since we were launched about five weeks ago, we have been circulating the earth in ever-expanding orbits, and our current circuit brings us to about 420,000 kilometers (261,000 miles) across the Earth just above the lunar orbit. , it is the closest access point to Earth a couple of days ago successfully, "said Opher Doron, general manager of Israel Aerospace Industries' space department who built the Beresheet spacecraft and operates farmer's control
Beresheet has traveled more than 3 , 4 million miles – about 5.5 million miles – since then Cape Canaveral departs.
Ground controllers identified a problem with the spacecraft's star tracking cameras shortly after launch. The cameras are used to locate the stars' positions in the sky and help determine Beresheet's orientation in space. SpaceIL says the star trails are too sensitive to dazzle with bright sunlight.
Beresheet also missed one of its track record engine burns at the end of February due to a computer reset, but engineers held missions on schedule for their arrival at the moon.
"We have made some corrections along the way to our course and we are on the way to capturing the moon … Thursday afternoon (Israeli time) and there we will perform a complex maneuver to get out of Earth's orbit in the Moon path, "said Doron on Tuesday. "So we are caught by the moon by our maneuver, and after that we are on our way to landing."
Beresheet will perform at least 70 percent of the impulse scheduled for Thursday's lunar catch fire to be orbited around the moon, according to Yoav Landsman, Beresheet's Deputy Mission Director at SpaceIL.
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If Thursday's maneuver goes according to plan, Beresheet enters a 14-hour orbit, ranging from 310 miles (500 kilometers) to about 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the moon, additional engine burns during the next week will put the lander in a circular 124-kilometer (200 kilometers) orbit (200 kilometers) in preparation for landing.
"When we reach the right point, we will just give the spacecraft the command to start the landing phase," said Yariv Bash, a co-founder of SpaceIL. "From that moment, the spacecraft will automatically start landing alone, all the way to the surface of moon.
"About 15 feet (5 meters) or above the surface of the moon, the speed will go to zero, and then we just turn off the engines and the spacecraft will perform a free fall all the way to the surface of the moon," Bash said. Tuesday. "The spacecraft's legs were designed to sustain this fall, and hopefully, when we are on the moon, we will be able to send pictures and videos to Earth."
In 2011, three young Israeli engineers and entrepreneurs established SpaceIL in the pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize, which pledged $ 20 million in prize money to the first team to land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon, return high definition images and demonstrate mobility on moon's surface.
Google Lunar X Prize competition ended last year without a winner, but Beresheet's backers kept the mission alive.
Morris Kahn, a South African-born Israeli billionaire, put $ 40 million in his fortune to the mission and serves as SpaceIL's president. Other donors include Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, a casino and resort magnate living in Las Vegas. IAI, the farmer's main contractor, also invested some of his own internal research and development funds into the program.
The Israeli space organization awarded SpaceIL about $ 2 million, the program's only public funding.
The whole mission has cost around $ 100 million, significantly less than any state-sponsored lunar nation. Yet, collecting $ 100 million from private donors presented a challenge.
"I had never thought in my wildest dreams that we would come to something like $ 100 million, but when we arrived, we were actually in," Kahn said Tuesday. "It was a challenge and actually I love a challenge."
The X Prize Foundation, which organized the original Google Lunar X Prize Contest, announced on March 28 that it will offer a $ 1 million "Moonshot Award" to SpaceIL if the Beresheet mission successfully lands on the moon.
"Although the Google Lunar X Prize was unsettled, we are thrilled to have stimulated a number of different teams from around the world to pursue their ambitious moon tasks, and we are proud to recognize SpaceIL & # 39; s achievements with this Moonshot Award, "said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of the X Prize Fund.
"SpaceIL's mission represents the democratization of space research," said Peter Diamandis, founder and chief executive of the X Prize Fund. "We are optimistic about seeing this first dominance, and devoting a chain reaction to more and more affordable and repeatable commercial missions to the moon and beyond."
A successful landing will not only mark the private space industry first, but will also push Israel into an exclusive group of nations that have set a spacecraft on the moon. So far, the United States, Russia and China have landed on the moon.
"We have a vision of showing Israel's best qualities to the whole world," said Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli businessman who helped fund the mission at a press conference between Beresheet's launch. "Little Israel, little, little Israel, is becoming the fourth nation to land on the moon. And that is a remarkable thing, because we continue to demonstrate our ability to go far beyond our weight and show our abilities our innovation and our creativity to tackle a difficult problem that might exist. " Beresheet means" genesis "or" in the beginning "in Hebrew.
Video of #Beresheet 's landing leg implementation, recorded shortly after separation from the Falcon9 second phase on February 22. In the background, the launch with the largest payload, making adjustment correction. Also in the background, the moon. @TeamSpaceIL pic.twitter.com/Nf22FIDCA6
– Yoav Landsman 🚀🌓 (@MasaCritit) March 24, 2019
Due to the limited budget of the project – a fraction of the cost of government-funded lunar landers – the Israeli team had to adapt technology designed for other purposes for the moon task. For example, the main propeller of the lander is a modified engine typically used to adjust the circuits of large communication satellites.
During the landing sequence, the engine will turn on and off to check the farmer's descent rate.
Most of the space systems on the spacecraft were built without backup to control the costs.
"Our spacecraft has very low redundancy," says Anteby. "A sensor that fails could fail the whole job."
After landing, Beresheet collects data on the magnetic field at the landing site. NASA also provided a laser reflector on the spacecraft, which scientists will use to determine the exact distance to the moon and to locate the farmer's location. The US space carrier also provides communication and tracking support to the mission.
The German space company – DLR – also helped the SpaceIL team drop test to simulate the conditions the spacecraft will encounter when landing.
The Israeli built lander is designed to operate at least two days on the moon, enough time to radiate back basic scientific data and a series of panoramic images plus a selfie. The laser reflector is a passive payload and will be useful long after the spacecraft ceases to function.
Beresheet also aims to deliver a time capsule to the moon with the Israeli flag and digital copies of the Israeli national anthem, the Bible, and other national and cultural artifacts.
Doron said that the IAI was not so much of a future for the custom-designed country's design after the Beresheet mission. But that is changing as NASA and the European Space Agency are looking to buy commercial rides for the moon for science experiments and eventually people.
IAI and OHB, a German airline, signed an agreement in January that could build on the Beresheet mission by constructing future commercial landing vessels to ferry scientific instruments and other payloads to the moon's surface to the ESA.
According to Doron, the IAI is also in discussions with US companies to use Israeli technology developed for the Beresheet project on commercial lunar landowners for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. NASA selected nine companies last year to be able to compete for contracts to transport scientific demo payloads to the lunar surface.
SpaceIL and IAI were not among the winners, but Israeli engineers could work with US companies to meet NASA's requirements.  Email the author.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1 .