Full size model of the Beresheet Moon lander
|Mission type||Technology demonstrator|
|Operator||Israel Aerospace Industries and SpaceIL|
|Mission duration||Final: 48 days, 17 hours, 38 minutes|
|Spacecraft type||Lunar lander|
|Manufacturer||Israel Aerospace Industries|
|Launch mass||585 kg (1,290 lb)|
|Dry mass||150 kg (330 lb)|
|Dimensions||diameter: 2 m (6.6 ft); height: 1.5 m|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||22 February 2019 1:45 UTC |
|Rocket||Falcon 9 B5|
|Launch site||CCAFS SLC-40|
|End of mission|
|Disposal||Destroyed upon impact on the Moon surface|
|Destroyed||11 April 2019, 19:23UTC|
|Landing date||Lunar capture: 4 April 2019 |
Landing: 11 April 2019 (failure)
|Landing site||Mare Serenitatis|
Beresheet (Hebrew: בְּרֵאשִׁית, "Bərēšīṯ", "In the beginning"; Book of Genesis) was a demonstrator of a small robotic lunar lander and lunar probe operated by Israel Aerospace Industries. Its aims included promoting careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and landing its magnetometer, digital time capsule, and laser retroreflector on the Moon. The lander's gyroscopes failed on 11 April 2019 causing the main engine to shut off, which caused the lander to crash on the Moon. Its final resting position is 32.5956°N, 19.3496°E.
The lander was previously known as Sparrow and was officially renamed to Beresheet in December 2018. Its net mass was 150 kg (330 lb); when fueled at launch, its mass was 585 kg (1,290 lb). It had been compared to a washing machine, as it stood at about the height of one at 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) and was similar in width to large household appliances. It used seven ground stations for Earth–lander communication. Its mission control center was at Israel Aerospace Industries in Yehud, Israel.
The Beresheet was the first non-governmental mission to land (albeit destructively) on the Moon, first Israeli mission to land on the Moon, the first ride-share mission to land on the Moon and the smallest spacecraft to aim and reach the Moon.
Beresheet was co-developed by SpaceIL – a non-profit organization headed by Morris Kahn, its major financier – and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It represented the first privately initiated Moon mission and was stimulated by the Google Lunar X Prize. IAI constructed the vehicle and was supported by the Israel Space Agency. The time window for participation in the Lunar X Prize closed before the launch. After the mission, Lunar X Prize awarded a US$1 million award to SpaceIL to support a second mission.
The costs for the project, including launch, were about US$100 million. The government of Israel's commitment to the project was stated to be 10% in July 2018. However, in 2019 just before the launch, SpaceIL told media that the overall budget was about $90 million, and only about $2 million of that came from the Israeli government.
The spacecraft carried a digital "time capsule" containing over 30 million pages of data, including a full copy of the English-language Wikipedia, the Wearable Rosetta disc, the PanLex database, the Torah, children's drawings, a children's book inspired by the space launch, memoirs of a Holocaust survivor, Israel's national anthem ("Hatikvah"), the Israeli flag, and a copy of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. At the last minute, genetic samples and tardigrades were added in epoxy resin between the digital layers.
Its scientific payload included a magnetometer supplied by the Israeli Weizmann Institute of Science to measure the local magnetic field, and a laser retroreflector array supplied by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to enable precise measurements of the Earth–Moon distance.
The spacecraft propulsion system was designed and built by Israel Aerospace Industries, based on monomethylhydrazine (MMH) fuel and mixed oxides of nitrogen (MON) oxidizer. It featured nine engines, the main engine was the LEROS 2b liquid-propellant, restartable rocket engine which was used to reach lunar orbit, as well as for deceleration of the spacecraft, destructive lithobraking, and an attempted propulsive landing.
In October 2015, SpaceIL signed a contract for a launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster, via Spaceflight Industries. It was launched on 22 February 2019 at 0145 UTC (20:45 local time on 21 February) as a secondary payload, along with the telecom satellite PSN-6. Beresheet was controlled by a command center in Yehud, Israel.
From 24 February to 19 March, the main engine was used four times to raise the orbit, putting its apogee close to the Moon's orbital distance. The spacecraft performed maneuvers so as to be successfully captured into an elliptical lunar orbit on 4 April 2019, and adjusted its flight pattern in a circular orbit around the Moon. Once it was in the correct circular orbit, it was planned to decelerate for a soft landing on the lunar surface. This was planned for 11 April 2019.
Beresheet was planned to operate for an estimated two days on the lunar surface, as it had no thermal control and was expected to quickly overheat. However, its laser retroreflector was a passive device requiring no electrical power and was expected to be functional for several decades.
The spacecraft was planned to have a short lifespan of about two days. Its main mission would have been to gather imagery and send it back to Earth. Additionally, the craft would have made magnetic measurements. It was also planned to reignite its main engine and perform a "hop" to another place in the Moon's surface, demonstrating relocation capability in its Moon exploration.
The retroreflector onboard Beresheet was a passive device and would have continued to be usable to laser ranging measurements for decades after the spacecraft's active life ended.
In addition to contributing the laser retroreflector to the mission, NASA planned to contribute space communications capabilities during the cruise phase and operations phase, even giving Beresheet time on the Deep Space Network. NASA also planned to survey Beresheet with its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (which it did after the crash-landing). In exchange, SpaceIL would have shared its magnetic measurements with NASA.
On 11 April 2019, the lander crash-landed on the lunar surface. An Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU2) gyroscope failed during the braking procedure on approach to the landing site, and the ground control crew was unable to reset the individual component due to a sudden loss of communications with the control network. By the time communications were restored, the craft's main engine had already been inactive for an extended period. The engine was brought back online following a system-wide reset; however, the craft had already lost too much altitude to slow its descent sufficiently. The final telemetry reading indicated that at an altitude of 150 metres (490 ft) the craft was still traveling over 500 km/hour (139 m/s), resulting in a total loss on impact with the lunar surface. Prior to impact, the probe had been able to take two last photographs: a view of itself against the Moon, and a closer shot of the Moon's surface.
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) overflew the area where Beresheet's telemetry ended, and took photos of the surface. When those photos were compared against earlier photos of the same location, one set of new features was obvious. A faint lighter line leads to a lighter halo surrounding a dark crater. A lump is visible at the head of the crater opposite the line. The light halo may either be gas associated with the craft's wreckage or fine soil particles blown outward by the impact. A small NASA payload known as the Lunar Retroflector Array (LRA) is hoped to have survived the crash but may have separated from the remaining wreckage. The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument on the LRO is pulsing laser images at the crash site in hopes of finding the LRA.
In August 2019, scientists reported that a capsule containing tardigrade micro-animals in their natural cryptobiotic state may have survived the crash and lived on the Moon for a while. On previous space missions, tardigrades were exposed to the open vacuum of space and some were able to live for a period of time. There is no real danger they will spread across the Moon.
Originally Beresheet was planned to be a one-time-only mission. However, on 13 April 2019, Morris Kahn announced that a new mission, named Beresheet 2 would attempt a second time to land on the Moon. On November 25, 2019, it was announced that Beresheet 2 would attempt to send one lander to the Moon and another to Mars.
IAI owns the intellectual property of the Beresheet design. On 9 June 2019 it was announced that IAI signed an agreement with the American company Firefly Aerospace to build a lunar lander based on Beresheet. Firefly Aerospace is one of several 'main contractors' for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), and they plan to propose a lunar lander based on Beresheet that will be called Genesis. Genesis would be launched on another vehicle Firefly plans to build, called Beta.