Israel’s Beresheet Spacecraft Crashes into Moon
Had Beresheet landed it would have been the first privately funded spacecraft to do so and the first from Israel
Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft, which had high hopes of becoming the first privately-funded spacecraft to land on the moon, crashed into it instead.
The country had high hopes that its company would make Israel the fourth nation, along with the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China to land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon.
However, as an audience watched, the Israeli spacecraft’s engine gave out. Groans filled a control-room full of expectant onlookers. The engine came on again seconds later and the crowd cheered. Then suddenly, communication with the $100 million spacecraft – which took eight years to build – blinked out and dreams of a successful landing came to a crushing end.
Although it failed to achieve its goal of landing on the moon, the spacecraft did hit a major milestone.
Beresheet, which was built by SpaceIL, did manage to orbit the moon – a historic accomplishment for a private organization. Previously, it had only been done by five nations — the United States, the former Soviet Union, China, Japan and India — and the European Space Agency. And for what it’s worth, the SpaceIL team’s Beresheet spacecraft – which is the Hebrew word for “Genesis” – was the first privately-built spacecraft to crash into the moon.
“We didn’t make it, but we definitely tried, and I think the achievement of getting to where we got is pretty tremendous,” Morris Kahn, SpaceIL’s primary funder and president, said during a livestream of the attempt. “I think we can be proud … you win some, you lose some.”
What’s most remarkable, is that the idea for building the spacecraft quite literally came about when three friends met in a bar outside Tel Aviv in late 2010.
The three students—Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari, and Yonatan Winetraub— had met one night for drinks when they convinced themselves they could build a spacecraft that could land on the moon. So they entered the Google Lunar XPrize, a global contest founded in 2007 that pledged $20 million to the first private entity to land on the lunar surface.
“Most of them thought we were a joke for the first few years,” Bash said, referring to when they told the Israel Space Agency and Israel Aerospace Industries – the country’s primary defense contractor – of their plans.
The Lunar XPrize deadline came and went several times before ultimately ending in March of last year without a winner. Despite that, however, the SpaceIL team was determined to finish the project that they had started so long ago. They managed to raise the vast majority of their (meager by space standards) budget through donations.
Finally, on Feb. 22, the Beresheet mission hitched a ride aboard a SpaceX rocket, launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida to begin a 7-week journey to the moon, finally reaching orbit on April 4, and then crashing down Thursday.
Despite the loss of Beresheet, the Lunar XPrize still decided to award SpaceIL with $1 million as a tribute to their achievement.
“I think they managed to touch the surface of the moon, and that’s what we were looking for for our Moonshot Award,” CEO Anousheh Ansari said.
“And also, besides touching the surface of the moon, they touched the lives and the hearts of an entire nation, an entire world, schoolkids around the world,” X Prize founder and Executive Chairman Peter Diamandis said.
Although its primary purpose was not a science mission but rather to inspire, had Beresheet landed, it would have conducted measurements of the local gravity field around its landing site. It also had a small laser retroreflector array, which NASA had given it that would have aided future moon landings.