The tiny Israeli spacecraft Beresheet has already made history as the first privately funded craft to enter orbit around the moon, and it made Israel just the seventh nation to put a craft into lunar orbit.
Now it will face its biggest and most historic challenge yet: On Thursday, April 11, the craft is scheduled to land on the surface of the moon.
The craft is small in size, being about the dimensions of a washing machine, but it’s big in ambitions. The aim is for the craft to pull into a closer orbit around the moon, moving from an elliptical to a circular orbit until it reaches an altitude of just 250km. Then the control room on Earth will send commands to begin the landing process.
A landing site has already been picked out, and it’s very exact: The target area is just 30 square kilometers (11.6 square miles). In order to land safely, the craft will have to fire its engines to reduce its speed from 6,000 km/h0ur (3,700 miles/hr) to effectively zero as it touches down gently on the surface. This firing process is autonomous so the team back in the control room on Earth will be watching closely, with fingers crossed that the slowing process goes smoothly.
In the last five meters (16 feet) before the craft touches down, the engines will cut out completely and the craft will freefall to the ground. If this goes well, the craft will stay on the lunar surface and collect data with instruments including a magnetometer for measuring the lunar magnetic field.
As the craft does not have thermal controls on board, it is expected that after a few days it will overheat and systems will stop functioning. But there are passive devices like the laser reflector which don’t require electrical power and which should continue working for decades to come.
In addition to scientific equipment, the craft also carries a digital time capsule which contains data like a full copy of English Wikipedia, a copy of the Torah, Israel’s national anthem and flag, and documents like children’s drawings, a children’s book about lunar exploration, and the memoirs of a Holocaust survivor.
The landing will be livestreamed and you can watch the coverage live on YouTube or via the embedded video below:
Coverage will begin at 2:45 p.m. ET today, so settle in for a lunar touchdown show!
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- Israel will launch world’s first privately funded moon mission tomorrow
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- Watch China’s moon mission touch down on the planet’s far side
- NASA scientists want to send a cave-diving rover to the moon