After entering the lunar orbit, the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet made Sunday morning the first of a series of maneuvers to slow down and enter smaller and smaller orbits around the moon before attempting to land on April 11. in the Sea of Serenity.
On Sunday, all Beresheet engines were on for 271 seconds, burning 55 kilograms (120 pounds) of the fuel he had left.
The maneuver reduced the farthest distance from the spacecraft. from the Moon from 10,400 kilometers (6460 miles) to only 750 kilometers (465 miles). The closest place in its orbit has remained 460 kilometers (285 miles) from the surface of the orb.
In the remaining four days until the landing attempt, the engineers will perform several additional maneuvers to convert the current elliptical orbit of Beresheet into a circular orbit 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the face of the moon.
On Thursday, Beresheet engineers executed the most complicated maneuver so far, a perfectly choreographed space jump that allows the car-sized spacecraft to jump from one orbit around the Earth to another around the Moon, making Israel the seventh country in the world to achieve the feat.
For the ship to successfully enter an orbit around the moon, Beresheet needed to reduce the speed from 8,500 kilometers per hour (5,280 miles per hour) to 7,500 kilometers per hour (4,660 miles per hour). Although that seems to be fast for simple humans, according to engineers, it is the orbital equivalent of hitting the brakes. The engineers accomplished this by turning the spacecraft so that its engines push in the opposite direction, slowing down.
It took approximately nine minutes for eight different engines to slowly maneuver the ship in the right direction, and a little less than six minutes for the engines to reduce the ship to the correct speed.
The United States, Russia (like the USSR), Japan, China, the European Space Agency and India have made visits to the Moon through probes, although only the United States, Russia and China have landed successfully on the Moon; Other probes lost control and hit the surface.
If Israel lands successfully as planned on April 11, it will also be the first time that a privately funded company lands there.
A photograph taken by the Beresheet spacecraft of the surface of the moon with the Earth in the background on April 5, 2019. (courtesy of Beresheet)
The NIS 370 million ($ 100 million) spacecraft is a joint venture between the Israeli non-profit organization SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from renowned Jewish philanthropists.
"There is a strong possibility that we will have a hard landing," said Opher Doron, general manager of the Israel Aerospace Industries space division. "It is very dangerous, and it is difficult to predict if we will succeed."
In total, the spacecraft has traveled almost 6 million kilometers and still has about half a million to travel. This is the slowest and longest journey a spacecraft has made to the Moon. The distance from Earth to the Moon is on average about 385,000 kilometers (239,000 miles).
By using the gravitational force of the Earth and the Moon and only activating the motors at the closest and farthest points of the ellipses, the engineers were able to drastically reduce the amount of fuel needed in the spacecraft. The fuel still accounts for most of the weight of Beresheet. At launch, the spacecraft weighed a total of 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds), of which approximately 440 kilograms (970 pounds) were fuel.
Beresheet, which means "Genesis" in Hebrew, began on February 22 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a Falcon 9 rocket from the private company SpaceX of the American businessman Elon Musk.
Beresheet on display before its release, December 17, 2018. (Ariel Schalit / AP)
The project was launched as the entry of Israel into the Google LunarX challenge so that non-governmental groups can land a spacecraft on the Moon. Google ended the contest in 2018 without winners, but the Israeli team decided to continue their efforts in private.
If Beresheet lands successfully on April 11, the ship is expected to perform two or three days of experiments that collect data about the moon's magnetic fields before shutting down. There it will remain, possibly until the death of the solar system, on the surface of the moon, joining approximately 181,000 kilograms (400,000 pounds of Earth's weight) of man-made debris scattered across the surface of the moon.