7 things to know about Israel's moon lander

Beresheet is size of smart car

The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet during pre-launch operations. (Image: SpaceIL)
The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet during pre-launch operations. (Image: SpaceIL)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The Israeli spacecraft SpaceX launched in February from Cape Canaveral will make history if it successfully lands on the moon's surface.

SpaceIL's moon lander hitched a ride to the lunar surface on a SpaceX Falcon 9 along with the PSN 6 communications satellite for Indonesia.

Falcon 9 lifted off Feb. 21 with the ride-sharing payloads from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40.

Keep reading to learn more about this historic mission.

Beresheet’s namesake

The lunar lander’s name was the result of crowdsourcing the Israeli public on Facebook. Beresheet was chosen in a final vote out of nine female Hebrew names and means “in the beginning” or “Genesis.”

SpaceIL officials said they hope the name and the spacecraft inspire the next generation of space explorers. A children’s book called “The Little Spacecraft” was inspired by the mission to help educate children about STEM subjects and “nurture the dreams of kids across Israel.”

No. 4

Israel will become the fourth country to ever land a spacecraft on the moon. That same club includes the U.S., Russia and China. 

This is also the first privately funded lunar landing. Tech companies, Israeli universities and several philanthropists funded the mission. SpaceIL is also supported by full-time staff as well as dozens of volunteers.

To mark the historic achievement, a time capsule that includes drawings from Israeli children and music are flying with the spacecraft to the moon.

SpaceX launch with experienced booster

It was the third flight for the Falcon 9 first-stage booster that launched Beresheet. SpaceX launched the same booster twice last year, delivering the Iridum-7 satellite and an Argentinian satellite into orbit.

SpaceX no longer cleans the booster’s char marks from launch, giving the rocket an experienced look.

Google it

SpaceIL was one of the finalists in Google’s Lunar XPrize that ended last year without any of the international private competitors reaching the moon by 2017. If any of the companies had made it to the moon and sent back images, they would have received a $20 million prize.

Beresheet will be the first of its competitors to make that goal, even though the competition is over.

The journey 

After separating from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Beresheet still had a significant journey. The spacecraft will take two to three months to arrive.

Normally, the journey to the moon takes a few days. Due to the small size of the spacecraft, it orbited Earth three times as its orbit got wider and closer to the moon. When Beresheet was close enough to the moon, it slowed down, and the lunar gravity pulled the spacecraft in on April 4 beginning its official lunar orbit.

Beresheet will now begin an elliptical orbit around the moon several times before it begins the landing process about a week later as soon as April 11.

The landing

On or after April 11, the spacecraft’s engines will fire, as it must slow from more than 3,730 mph to zero mph as it touches down on the moon’s surface. Five meters before Beresheet lands, all engines will shut off and the lander will free-fall for a moment to complete the landing on four legs.

Beresheet’s tripod-like legs are designed to absorb the landing energy and prevent the spacecraft from toppling over.

What will Beresheet tell us about the moon?

The lander will touch down within the Mare Serenitatis on the northern hemisphere of the moon. The location was chosen because of the site’s magnetic anomalies.

Beresheet is equipped with a suite of scientific instruments to measure the moon’s magnetic field.

The moon has a very weak magnetic field, and before Apollo astronauts brought back moon rocks, scientists didn’t even know the moon had a magnetic field. They now know the field was, at one point, as strong as Earth’s but eventually dissolved.

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