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'Small country, big dreams:' Private Israeli spacecraft misses moon landing

Spacecraft lost after engine failure

A selfie taken by SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft 22 km above the lunar surface on April 11, 2019. The spacecraft did not successfully land after an engine failure.
A selfie taken by SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft 22 km above the lunar surface on April 11, 2019. The spacecraft did not successfully land after an engine failure.

The Israeli spacecraft launched by SpaceX in February was set to make history Thursday after a two-month journey to the moon, but after a few intense minutes, SpaceIL confirmed the spacecraft did not survive the lunar landing.

SpaceIL's lander, called Beresheet, was expected to touch down on the lunar surface after 3:20 p.m. EST, but shortly after the spacecraft began the descent mission control lost telemetry with the spacecraft, and then there was a problem with the main engine and finally communication was lost.

If the landing had been achieved, Israel would have become the fourth country to ever land a spacecraft on the moon. That small club includes the U.S., Russia and China.

NASA's Deep Space Network allowed SpaceIL and the Israel Space Agency to communicate with Bersheet during the journey to the moon.

A NASA navigation device on Beresheet provided lunar surface location details that can be used by future landers for navigation.

To prepare for landing, the spacecraft’s engines fired, as it needed to slow from more than 3,730 mph to a full stop to touch down on the moon’s surface.

At 22 kilometers above the surface Beresheet sent back a selfie showing moon craters below and the Israeli flag with the phrase "small country, big dreams."

Those dreams were not fully realized this time. When Beresheet was about 5 meters from the landing site the spacecraft would have shut off all engines before free-falling for a moment to complete the landing. It was around this time that communication was lost with the spacecraft.

"Space is hard, but worth the risks. If we succeeded every time, there would be no reward. It’s when we keep trying that we inspire others and achieve greatness," Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate,  tweeted after the landing attempt. "Thank you for inspiring us @TeamSpaceIL. We’re looking forward to future opportunities to explore the Moon together."

SpaceIL's lander would have touched down within the Mare Serenitatis on the northern hemisphere of the moon. The location was chosen because of the site’s magnetic anomalies.

The private moon mission was one of several international contenders for a $20 million Google Lunar XPRIZE if they had landed on the moon by 2017. However, none of the commercial companies successfully completed that by the competition deadline.

XPRIZE officials attended the landing attempt at mission control and said the nonprofit will still receive $1 million to help them to continue their work and pursue another mission.

Check back for updates.


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