SpaceIL announces return to the Moon with Beresheet 2
Just three days after SpaceIL‘s Beresheet lander crashed on the Moon, the non-profit organization announced plans to build and launch a second spacecraft, Beresheet 2, within the next two to three years.
“We’re going to build a new spacecraft; we’re going to put it on the Moon, and we’re going to complete the mission,” SpaceIL President and chief funder Morris Kahn said in a tweet April 14. He pledged to fund the second mission, for which work will begin as soon as an investigation into the cause of the April 11 landing failure is complete.
In an April 17 statement, the non-profit said a preliminary investigation indicates a manual command entered into Beresheet’s computer triggered a chain reaction that turned off the spacecraft’s main engine. Although mission engineers were able to restart the engine via a computer command, by that time, the spacecraft was traveling too fast to avoid impacting the Moon.
Yonatan Winetraub, SpaceIL‘s co-founder, told Spaceflight Insider the non-profit and its commercial partner, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), view the first mission as a success in spite of its less-than-ideal end.
“We reached the Moon. That’s the most important message here,” Winetraub said. “From a technological point of view, it was a great success. We did it under $100 million, a magnitude cheaper than any other mission to the Moon, and were the first privately funded organization to attempt doing that.”
The critical error occurred within the last 10 miles of the mission, just before the scheduled landing, Winetraub said.
In Israel, both the Feb. 22, 2019, launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the April 11 landing attempt were broadcast on all major media outlets. Children stayed up late to watch both events, and many were inspired to pursue spaceflight and engineering, in a phenomenon much like the Apollo effect in the U.S. during the 1960s and early 1970s, Winetraub said.
A NASA instrument aboard the lander, the Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) designed as a target for laser tracking, could have survived the crash and if so, may still be usable. The space agency is planning to use its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in an effort to locate the instrument by sending out laser beams. Any that hit the LRA are expected to bounce back, revealing its presence and location.
Immediately after Beresheet crashed on the lunar surface, many on social media began requesting a second mission. SpaceIL first has to complete its investigation to determine the root causes of the error and how to fix it, which will become a key point in designing the new spacecraft, Winetraub said.
The non-profit is considering placing an additional payload on Beresheet 2.
A major reason Beresheet is considered a success is that it pioneered the use of small, lower cost spacecraft.
Beresheet’s design is already influencing future commercial spaceflight. OHB, the German-based technology corporation that contracted with IAI to build Beresheet, plans to propose a similar spacecraft design to the European Space Agency (ESA) for upcoming missions.
“That shows this design is really innovative, and that a lot more science can be done using smaller missions than big missions,” Winetraub said.
Laurel Kornfeld is an amateur astronomer and freelance writer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program. Her writings have been published online in The Atlantic, Astronomy magazine’s guest blog section, the UK Space Conference, the 2009 IAU General Assembly newspaper, The Space Reporter, and newsletters of various astronomy clubs. She is a member of the Cranford, NJ-based Amateur Astronomers, Inc. Especially interested in the outer solar system, Laurel gave a brief presentation at the 2008 Great Planet Debate held at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.