Small lander on the surface of the Moon.

Artist's concept of Beresheet on the Moon. Credit: SpaceIL

Beresheet is Israel's first lunar mission and the first attempt by a private company to land on the Moon.

  • The mission will touch down on Mare Serenitatis in April.
  • NASA installed a small laser retroreflector aboard the lander to test its potential as a navigation tool.
  • Beresheet means ​"In the Beginning" in Hebrew.
Nation Israel
Objective(s) Lunar Landing
Spacecraft Beresheet
Spacecraft Mass 1,300 pounds (585 kilograms)
Mission Design and Management SpaceIL (Private Company) / Israeli Space Agency
Launch Date and Time Feb. 22, 2019 / 1:45 UT
Laumch Vehicle SpaceX Falcon 9
Launch Site Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
Scientific Instruments 1. Magnetometer
2. Laser Retroreflector

Beresheet is about 5 feet (1 meter) tall by 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide with its landing gear and legs deployed. The lander will separate first from the rocket, taking the long route to the Moon to save fuel by employing gravitational forces to propel itself.

Beresheet will stay in Earth’s orbit for about a month, slowly widening its ellipse until it reaches apogee, or its farthest point from here, at nearly 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. The SpaceIL team will need to time Beresheet’s apogee precisely to meet up with the Moon in its orbit about Earth. At this point, the navigators can slow the spacecraft to allow it to be captured by the Moon’s gravity and pulled into its orbit.

Illustration showing Beresheet's winding trajectory to the Moon.
A graphic showing Beresheet's path to the Moon. Dates correspond with Israel Standard Time. Credit: SpaceIL

Beresheet is due to touch down between April 11 and 12 in a dark patch of an ancient volcanic field visible from Earth, known as the Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis in Latin). NASA’s Apollo 17 astronauts landed near this region on Dec. 11, 1972.

Though the primary goal of its mission is to land safely, the spacecraft will attempt to do science in orbit, during landing, and on the ground. The window of opportunity for research is small: just three Earth days maximum after landing that the spacecraft can withstand the crushing heat — 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) at local noon — of the lunar day (14 Earth days).

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), one of the agency’s three spacecraft circling and studying the Moon, will analyze the gases released by Beresheet’s descentt engine as the lander approaches the surface.

Meanwhile, scientists from the University of California in Los Angeles, Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, and from other global organizations will rely on data from Beresheet’s magnetometer to study whether Moon rocks contain a history of the magnetic field there.

Another experiment on Beresheet will involve a tiny but robust instrument called a Laser Retroreflector Array. Smaller than a computer mouse, this device features eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners that are set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame. This configuration allows the device to reflect light coming in from any direction back to its source. LRO’s laser altimeter, an instrument that measures altitude, will try to shoot laser pulses at Beresheet’s retroreflector and then measure how long it takes the light to bounce back. By using this technique, engineers expect to be able to pinpoint Beresheet’s location within 4 inches (10 centimeters).

SpaceIL was established in 2010 to tackle the Lunar X Prize, a competition sponsored by Google that challenged private companies to land a spacecraft on the Moon. Though no company was able to meet the competition deadline, prompting Google to end it with no winner in March 2018, the Israeli team pressed on.

Beresheet is due to touch down between April 11 and 12 in a dark patch of an ancient volcanic field visible from Earth, known as the Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis in Latin). NASA’s Apollo 17 astronauts landed near this region on Dec. 11, 1972.

SpaceIL will rely on the Swedish Space Corporation’s network of antennas to communicate navigation commands to the spacecraft and to track its trajectory. Once the spacecraft lands, NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) will ferry data between it and Earth. DSN is a system of global antennas managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, that scientists use to communicate with spacecraft in deep space.

The SpaceIL mission advances a partnership between NASA and ISA as both agencies will share the resulting discoveries with the global scientific community.

Additional Resources

  • National Space Science Data Center: Beresheet

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