Spacewatch: Israel's private moon mission crash-lands

Israel’s Beresheet lander has failed in its attempt to become the first privately funded mission to land on the moon. The 150kg spacecraft began its descent on 11 April but ran into difficulties about 14km above the lunar surface, when the main engine shut down unexpectedly. The spacecraft was still six minutes before the scheduled landing time. Telemetry signals received from the lander made it clear that although the engine restarted, the spacecraft hit the moon’s surface at a speed of 500km per hour. At this speed, the spacecraft would have been destroyed on impact.

It was planned that the spacecraft would reach zero velocity at an altitude of five metres above the moon’s surface, then its engines would turn off and the gentle lunar gravity would pull it softly to the surface. The landing attempt was witnessed by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the SpaceIL mission control in Yehud, Israel.

The Israeli not-for-profit organisation SpaceIL owned the spacecraft, which was built by Opher Doron, the space division of Israel Aerospace Industries, and launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on 22 February. The mission cost $100m and was financed by a number of billionaires. SpaceIL has said that it will try again.


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