Beresheet, the robust robotic spacecraft built by an Israeli nonprofit organization, is still on track to land on the moon next week.
On Thursday, after having traveled more than 3.4 million miles, is to perform a crucial gymnastics: to turn from a highly elliptical orbit around the Earth to another around the Moon.
"This is actually the most critical maneuver that our spacecraft will perform during the mission," said Ido Anteby, executive director of the non-profit organization SpaceIL. "Except, of course, the landing."
SpaceIL will broadcast the coverage of the event from its control center in Israel on its Facebook page starting at 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time.
Since its launch in February, Beresheet, which means "Genesis" or "at the beginning" in Hebrew, has fired its engine several times to push its loop orbit higher and higher. On March 19, a 60-second burn took the highest point of the Beresheet orbit more than a quarter of a million miles above Earth, or just beyond the orbit of the moon.
This trajectory has been carefully choreographed so that on Thursday, the spacecraft will return to that higher point when the moon pbades, its gravity grabs Beresheet and throws it away from Earth.
At 10:15 a.m. Eastern time (5:15 p.m. in Israel), the engine will again run, for approximately five minutes, reducing the speed of the spacecraft from approximately 5,300 miles per hour, relative to the moon, to 4,700 m.p.h.
"If we do not hit the brakes, it will go off forever," said Opher Doron, general manager of the space division of Israel Aerospace Industries, which partnered with SpaceIL in the construction of the spacecraft.
If Beresheet loses that appointment, he probably will not have another chance.
"It's not a complex maneuver," Doron said. "It's just not the time to have a little sudden problem, we'll be nervous."
If the maneuver works, Beresheet will enter an elliptical orbit around the Moon, pbading 310 miles from the surface and moving up to 6,200 miles away.
During the next week, it will restart its engine to enter a circular orbit 124 miles above the surface of the moon. If everything continues as planned, Beresheet will attempt a soft landing on April 11. To date, that is a feat that only the space government agencies of the United States, the former Soviet Union and China have achieved.
The original objective of SpaceIL was to win the Google Lunar X Prize, which offered $ 20 million for the first privately funded company to place a robotic spacecraft on the Moon. But the prize expired last year before any of the teams could claim it.
SpaceIL went ahead, hoping that its mission would inspire Israeli students to pursue careers in science and engineering.
Mr. Doron said that Beresheet has done just that.
On Purim, a Jewish holiday in which people dress up as on Halloween, "In all the places you went, people dressed like Beresheet, or astronauts," Mr. Doron said. "The main parade had a large carriage made of balloons shaped like a Beresheet. It's an incredible impact. "
The X Prize Foundation announced last week that it would award a special $ 1 million Moonshot prize to SpaceIL if the landing is successful.
Not everything has gone perfectly for Beresheet. Your computer has crashed several times. Their star trackers, used to aid the navigation of the ship, have been blinded, even when they do not look directly at the sun.
The engineers have not discovered the causes of all the failures, but they have discovered how to work around them.
"The spacecraft is working," said Anteby. "We are happy with what we have."
The landing itself, which points to a lava plain known as the Sea of Serenity, will be the most difficult part of the mission.
"Would I fly in a helicopter with the windows closed, landing only with a laser sensor that has never been tested before, without maps?" He asked. "I doubt you fly in that helicopter, that's what we're trying to do."