Update from the chair of the ISTVS Robotics Committee, Dr Lutz Richter:
Following its launch in February, the small, Israeli-built Beresheet lunar lander spacecraft was successfully maneuvered to the Moon and entered orbit around it on April 4, as planned. “Beresheet” had its origin in the now discontinued Google Lunar X-Prize, with Israel’s SpaceIL team going all the way to launching its demonstration mission, one to two years ahead of competing ex-contenders to the prize.
The Beresheet spacecraft was developed and built at Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) outside of Tel Aviv and represents an efficient, low mass design but with little redundancy. For follow-on missions on a commercial basis, IAI is collaborating with aerospace company OHB System of Germany. As planned, the Beresheet landing sequence took place April 11 following a series of successful maneuvers in lunar orbit to set up for the landing in the Moon’s Mare Serenitatis.
The landing event, staged on IAI’s premises, was attended by more than 2,000 invited guests and dignitaries, including leaders of the X-Prize foundation. Unfortunately, during the landing sequence an equipment malfunction occurred which in a chain of events led to the reset of the on-board computer and attendant shut-down of the braking thrusters operation.
Recovery of the electronics’ operation took too long for the landing to be completed successfully as the “point of no return” had been passed, and Beresheet hit the ground at more than 300 mph, leading to the loss of the spacecraft. However, thjs first privately funded lunar mission must be judged a phenomenal success and got extremely close to scoring a successful soft landing.
Many images were relayed by the spacecraft during its mission and most important of all, it engaged the public especially in Israel, in this unprecedented lunar endeavor. SpaceIL, private donors, and the Israeli government within minutes of the end of the mission declared to try again on a follow-on mission in less than two years, and NASA and other space agencies congratulated Israel and SpaceIL on the achievement.
More private and commercial lunar missions will follow around the world, including surface rovers and activities related to mining of lunar resources. Moreover, the US Administration in late March announced the goal of returning astronauts to the surface of the Moon within just five years which represents an acceleration of earlier plans that were targeting new human lunar landings by 2028.
These are exciting times in lunar exploration!
Lutz Richter is an employee of OHB System.