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  1. No private company has ever achieved what SpaceIL is trying to do. Enlarge / Beresheet captured this image of the Moon from an altitude of 500km. SpaceIL It has been 48 days since the Beresheet spacecraft launched on a Falcon 9 rocket and began a spiraling series of orbits to raise itself toward the Moon. Last week, the 180kg vehicle fired its engines to enter into lunar orbit, and now the time has come for it to attempt a soft landing on the Moon. No private company has ever achieved what SpaceIL, a private group organized in Israel to win the now defunct Google Lunar XPrize, is attempting. At 3:05pm EDT Thursday (19:05 UTC), the Beresheet vehicle will begin the landing process that will set it down at Mare Serenitatis (the "Sea of Serenity"), about 30 degrees north of the lunar equator. The actual landing should come about 20 minutes later. It will be quite a moment both for the country of Israel—until now, only the US, Russian, and Chinese space agencies have ever successfully landed on the Moon—as well as for a nascent commercial space effort that seeks to develop a base of economic activity on the Moon. The webcast below should go live about 40 minutes before the landing attempt begins. For SpaceIL, the big goal with Beresheet is simply to survive the descent and make a soft landing on the Moon. To safely touch down, Beresheet's on-board engines must arrest the vehicle's lateral speed from about 6,000km/hour (with respect to the Moon) to zero. This will be done autonomously, and the spacecraft will use sensors to determine its location and altitude in relation to the Moon’s surface. Beresheet lunar landing attempt. On the surface, the Beresheet vehicle will have about three days to document its surroundings before its solar panels are expected to reach a temperature of 200°C and overheat. This was one of the design compromises inherent to developing a smaller lander on a tight budget. Thursday's landing attempt comes as NASA has asked several US companies—some of which were also competing in the Lunar XPrize—to develop the capacity for small landers to deliver science experiments to the Moon. The agency would like these commercial missions to begin flying to the Moon as soon as this year, although it is unclear whether or not that goal is actually possible. NASA also recently accelerated its plans to return humans to the Moon, hoping to do so as early as 2024. Source: A private spacecraft from Israel will attempt a Moon landing Thursday (Ars Technica)
  2. "We're going to complete the mission." On Saturday, just two days after the Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the Moon, the president of SpaceIL said the organization would move forward. Beginning this week, Morris Kahn said, a new task force would learn from the organization's failures and begin developing a new plan for a Beresheet 2 spacecraft. "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," said Kahn, a billionaire who personally donated $40 million to the private Israeli effort. So far, SpaceIL has provided few additional details about the project, such as when it might launch. The original project, started to win the Google Lunar XPrize, began eight years ago. In a Reddit AMA on Sunday, one of the team's engineers, Ben Nathaniel, added this comment about the new proposal: "Beresheet 2 was only just announced. It will be a major project that will take major planning, coordination and last but not least, financing. At this time there are so many factors at play that we can't yet make a prediction when exactly it will be launched. We do hope to still be the first private company to land on the Moon." Also this weekend, SpaceIL released some preliminary information on what may have gone wrong with the landing attempt—which was conducted autonomously. The first technical issue occurred about 14km above the Moon's surface, which triggered a chain of events that led to the spacecraft's main engine to fail temporarily. (This may have involved one of Beresheet's IMUs, or inertial measurement units, but so far, SpaceIL has not specified a cause). At this altitude, the spacecraft was already committed to landing on the Moon. Eventually, the main engine's function returned, but at that point the spacecraft was just 150 meters above the ground, moving 500km/h toward the surface. Needless to say, this was a terminal velocity. SpaceIL engineers intend to conduct "comprehensive tests" this week to better understand the sequence of events that triggered a temporary failure of the main engine. In the meantime, the project has won plaudits for its openness and willingness to fail in public view. NASA has had a similar policy since the beginning of its exploration efforts. "I want to thank @TeamSpaceIL for doing this landing with millions watching around the world, despite knowing the risks," NASA's science chief Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted after the landing attempt. "We do the same because we believe in the value of worldwide exploration and inspiration. We encourage all international and commercial explorers to do the same!" This seemed a none-too-subtle nudge toward China, which recently landed on the far side of the Moon but only announced that fact several hours after mission success. Source: Israeli group says it will make a second attempt to land on the Moon (Ars Technica) Poster's note: The original article contains an image slideshhow. To view it, please visit the link above.
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