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Israel almost landed the first private spacecraft on the Moon

Posted on Friday, April 12 2019 @ 11:42:34 CEST by

After eight years of work, Israel's private moon mission almost succeeded in landing on the lunar surface. Established in 2011 to compete in the Google Lunar X Prize contest, SpaceIL attempted the first privately funded landing on the Moon, with a budget of under $100 million.

The Beresheet spacecraft launched on February 22, 2019 as a secondary payload on SpaceX's Falcon 9. After weeks of minor maneuvering to achieve the correct orbit, SpaceIL attempted to perform a landing on April 11, 2019.

Unfortunately, Beresheet's main engine malfunctioned at an altitude of 149 meters. By the time the issue was resolved, it was no longer possible to perform a soft landing as the spacecraft was coming in way too hot. Communications with the spacecraft were lost shortly after the engine malfunction, suggesting the craft crashed on the surface of the Moon.

So far, only government space agencies from the US, China, and the former Soviet Union managed to successfully land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. The remarkable thing about this private mission is the much lower cost.

A report by BBC News points out the British-made Nammo engine was never used in this kind of application before:
Before the landing, Rob Westcott, senior propulsion engineer at Nammo, said "We've never used an engine in this kind of application before".

He said the big challenge would be "the fact that the engine is going to have to be switched on and get very hot, then switched off for a short period of time when all that heat is remaining in its thermal mass, and then fired up again, very accurately and very precisely such that it slows the craft down and lands very softly on the surface on the Moon."



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