NASA is Aboard First Private Moon Landing Attempt
The last screw is tightened and a private Moon lander is packed in the fairing atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It took eight years to get there, plus significant dedication by a small group of scientists and engineers building Israel’s first machine to leave Earth’s orbit. Now, the highly anticipated moment is here: a shot at the first private Moon landing, and NASA is contributing to the experiment.
An Israeli spacecraft from SpaceIL is scheduled to launch Thursday, Feb. 21 and is aiming to touch down on Mare Serenitatis two months later. NASA installed a small laser retroreflector aboard the lander to test its potential as a navigation tool. The agency also provided images of the Moon’s surface to help the engineers identify a landing site for the mission. NASA will also use its deep space telecommunications network to transmit images and science data home to SpaceIL and its partners. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed an agreement with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) in July 2018 in order to collaborate with SpaceIL on the mission. SpaceIL will provide NASA scientific data from the spacecraft’s magnetometer as part of the collaboration.
“This is the type of collaboration that will become more frequent as NASA looks to expand
opportunities with a greater variety of partners to continue the exploration of the Moon and Mars,” said Steve Clarke, NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration. “NASA is proud to work with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) and SpaceIL and we look forward to the landing and the science data that will be gained from this important mission.”
It takes a village
SpaceIL was established in 2010 to tackle the Lunar X Prize, a competition sponsored by Google that challenged private companies to land a spacecraft on the Moon. Though no company was able to meet the competition deadline, prompting Google to end it with no winner in March 2018, the Israeli team pressed on.
But no company can make it in space alone. SpaceIL will rely on the Swedish Space Corporation’s network of antennas to communicate navigation commands to the spacecraft and to track its trajectory. Once the spacecraft lands, NASA’s
Deep Space Network (DSN) will ferry data between it and Earth. DSN is a system of global antennas managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, that scientists use to communicate with spacecraft in deep space.
The SpaceIL mission advances a
partnership between NASA and ISA as both agencies will share the resulting discoveries with the global scientific community.
“The team’s tension level is high, but we’re also very, very excited” said Eran Shmidt, deputy manager and head of the ground control team at
SpaceIL, the Israeli nonprofit that built the Moon lander, called Beresheet, or “genesis” in Hebrew, in partnership with Israeli-government-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries.
A graphic showing Beresheet's path to the Moon. Dates correspond with Israel Standard Time.
Beresheet — about 5 feet (1 meter) tall by 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) wide with its landing gear and legs deployed — is one of two payloads that will hitch a ride aboard the Falcon 9 today. The other payload is an Earth telecommunications satellite. The lander will separate first from the rocket, taking the long route to the Moon to save fuel by employing gravitational forces to propel itself. Thus, Beresheet will stay in Earth’s orbit for about a month, slowly widening its ellipse until it reaches apogee, or its farthest point from here, at nearly 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. The SpaceIL team will need to time Beresheet’s apogee precisely to meet up with the Moon in its orbit about Earth. At this point, the navigators can slow the spacecraft to allow it to be captured by the Moon’s gravity and thereby pulled into its orbit.
“Once we are captured by the Moon,” said Shmidt, “we will orbit around it, perform a few maneuvers for about a week, and then start a 20- to 30-minute autonomous descent.”
A few moments of precious science
Beresheet is due to touch down between April 11 and 12 in a dark patch of an ancient volcanic field visible from Earth, known as the Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis in Latin). NASA’s Apollo 17 astronauts landed near this region on Dec. 11, 1972.
Now, Beresheet will have an opportunity to mark a new first in space exploration with its landing. Though the primary goal of its mission is to land safely, the spacecraft will attempt to do science in orbit, during landing, and on the ground. The window of opportunity for research is small, though: just three Earth days maximum after landing that the spacecraft can withstand the crushing heat — 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) at local noon — of the lunar day (14 Earth days). But every second counts to scientists back on Earth.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), one of the agency’s three spacecraft circling and studying the Moon, will analyze the gases released by Beresheet’s descent engine as the lander approaches the surface.
“What we’re trying to learn is how volatile compounds, such as water or other gases, are transported around the Moon,” said
John W. Keller, an LRO project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “If we can predict where these compounds will go and where they’ll settle, we’ll know in what regions of the Moon to look for water and other valuable resources.”
Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Meanwhile, scientists from the University of California in Los Angeles, Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, and from other global organizations will rely on data from Beresheet’s magnetometer to study whether Moon rocks contain a history of the magnetic field there.
An old, new instrument
Another experiment on Beresheet will involve a tiny but robust instrument called a Laser Retroreflector Array. Smaller than a computer mouse, this device features eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners that are set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame. This configuration allows the device to reflect light coming in from any direction back to its source. LRO’s laser altimeter, an instrument that measures altitude, will try to shoot laser pulses at Beresheet’s retroreflector and then measure how long it takes the light to bounce back. By using this technique, engineers expect to be able to pinpoint Beresheet’s location within 4 inches (10 centimeters).
One day, this simple technology, requiring neither power nor maintenance, may make it easier to navigate to locations on the Moon, asteroids, and other bodies. It could also be dropped from a spacecraft onto the surface of a celestial body where the reflector could help scientists track the object’s spin rate or position in space.
“It’s a fixed marker you may return to it any time,” said David E. Smith, principal investigator of the
Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, or LOLA, on the LRO.
Laser retroreflectors have already been instrumental to space exploration. Apollo- astronauts left three large reflector panels at various Moon locations 50 years ago. They’re still reflecting light today, with their 100 mirrors each, though they’re reflecting light all the way back to Earth instead of a close-by orbiter. Using these mirrors, scientists have learned many things about the Moon, particularly that it is moving away from Earth at a rate of 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) per year.
A laser retroreflector.
Credits: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
These days, smaller laser reflectors are commonly used to track Earth-orbiting satellites from the ground and have been included on several recent space missions. NASA installed an Italian Space Agency-provided retroreflector on the deck of the
InSight lander, which arrived on Mars in November 2018. Though there’s no orbiter with a laser instrument at Mars today to shoot light to InSight’s reflector, scientists expect that there will be one in the future.
In Beresheet’s case, too, the reflector will live on forever, even though Beresheet is expected to stop working within a few days of landing. It may be a simple dome of mirrors, yet Beresheet’s reflector may be one of the first flickers of light future explorers undertaking NASA’s
Moon to Marsexploration will see as they descend to the Moon in the coming decade.
Banner image: A false color view of the Moon's southern latitudes. The large blue area at the bottom of the frame is the South Pole-Aitken Basin, an enormous and very old impact feature on the far side of the Moon. Credits: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.
The first private mission to the Moon may launch Thursday night
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Shooting for the moon, engineers cheer successful launch of Beresheet $100 million spacecraft could make Israel the fourth country to land on the moon, but for many engineers involved in the project, just the fact that it launched is miraculous
YEHUD, ISRAEL — Liftoff happened exactly on schedule at 3:45 a.m. Israel time, prompting a raucous cheer from the cafeteria at Israel Aerospace Industries, where 500 employees and their families gathered to watch the launch of Israel’s historic lunar mission.
Israel hopes to become the fourth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the moon, with the launch of the unmanned spacecraft Beresheet from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Friday. If successful, the 160-kilogram (350 pounds without fuel), four-legged spacecraft, about the size of a car, will also be the smallest and cheapest spacecraft to land on the moon.
But after the initial cheer, the room fell silent, engineers holding their breaths as the rocket escaped the earth’s atmosphere and reached an altitude of approximately 69,000 km (42,000 miles).
At 4:23 a.m., another cheer went up as the command center in Yehud, where Israel Aerospace Industries is headquartered, received the first data from Beresheet as the spacecraft prepared to separate from the rocket. At 4:25 a.m., Beresheet separated from the Falcon 9 rocket that launched it into space, successfully deploying its landing legs in the first test of its ability to function under its own power. The spacecraft will now travel about for seven weeks before reaching the moon on April 11.
Exhausted but happy engineers posed for selfies with a larger-than life balloon replica of the spacecraft before heading home.
The $100 million (NIS 370 million) spacecraft is a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely from private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists including South African billionaire Morris Kahn, Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, Canadian real estate mogul Sylvan Adams, and others.
Previously, Russia (as the Soviet Union) and the United States have landed on the moon. China landed an unmanned spacecraft on the far side of the moon in 2013.
Hundreds of engineers and their families gathered in the Israel Aerospace Industries cafeteria in Yehud to watch a live feed of the launch of the Beresheet spacecraft on February 22, 2019. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was also at the command center for the launch, blessed the initiative, calling it “a big step for Israel, and a big step for Israeli technology.”
“This launch for us, the people who worked on the development and building of the spacecraft, is like a birth after a long pregnancy,” said Ehud Hayan, a space systems engineer at Israel Aerospace Industries. “When the spacecraft leaves the rocket, that’s it. Once it’s in space, we can’t do any more tests or adjustments. It’s the first time it will be working alone, starting its functions. And once everything starts working, the motors are going and the pictures are streaming, you’ll feel as if there’s something alive.”
Hayan said the launch is usually one of the most stressful parts of a space operation, but because they have outsourced the launch to the commercial space company SpaceX, the Israeli engineers couldn’t do anything except sit back and watch the launch, hoping for the best.
“We had a successful launch, we were injected into a good orbit, separated well, and have good communications,” said Dr. Ofer Doron, the general manager of the Space Division at Israel Aerospace Industries, after Beresheet separated from Falcon 9.
There is a small problem with one of the star trackers, which helps the spacecraft orient itself using the position of the stars, but Doron said there are other ways that the spacecraft will be able to maneuver onto the correct path.
He noted that this is the first time that a deep space operation is totally funded by private donors. “Everyone is looking at us to see if it will work,” he said. “Now, Europe and the US are looking at this model, changing their strategy. Instead of being responsible for everything, they are looking for commercial options.”
Hayan said the project’s shoestring budget of $100 million for development and production was limited by what they were able to fund raise. In comparison, NASA space shuttles cost about $1.5 billion, including development. One of the requirements for participation in the Google LunarX challenge was that the entry not be associated with a government. Google ended the LunarX contest in 2018 with no winners.
The Israeli government eventually contributed about NIS 7.5 million ($2 million), said Hayan. “We will never be NASA, we are a small country, with a small budget,” said Hayan. “The percentage of our space budget to the GDP is much smaller than other Western countries.” However, Beresheet set out to prove that space travel could happen on a budget, without billions of dollars of government support.
Space travel is going the way of Uber and the sharing economy, with national space agencies looking to cut costs by using “ride shares” to hitchhike into space on existing commercial launches.
The Falcon 9 rocket that launched Beresheet into space also launched a large geo-communication satellite and other equipment for the US Air Force. While Elon Musk of SpaceX has cornered the market on commercial rocket launches, SpaceIL and IAI are hoping to find a niche in inexpensive robotic moon landings, so space agencies or, one day, private individuals or organizations, could send cameras and research equipment to the moon for their own purposes.
Hayan said that he thinks the commercialization of space travel is an overall positive thing, despite its origins as a sort of national identity. “Look at SpaceX and what they did to the cost of launches,” he said. “They cut down on the cost by almost ten times. They brought new ideas, like reusable rockets. And now [Elon Musk] is even talking about sending humans to Mars. This is amazing, we didn’t imagine this. The companies are really thinking farther ahead than what the national agencies were doing.”
For Liav Rotenberg, one of the spacecraft controllers, Friday’s launch was “a dream that’s finally being realized.”
“I can’t believe it, I remember back to my first days here,” said Rotenberg, who volunteered at IAI in high school and begged to be on the engineering team, despite his age. During the next 60 days, Rotenberg will take shifts in the command center in Yehud overseeing the spacecraft’s onboard engines. The engines make minute adjustments to the spacecraft’s trajectory, allowing it to make larger and larger elliptical orbits around the earth until it is pulled into the moon’s orbits.
Beresheet will circle Earth six or seven times in a series of growing ellipses before jumping into the moon’s orbit on April 4. The spacecraft will also circle the moon in a series of increasingly smaller ellipses, until it is expected to drop down into the Sea of Tranquility, on April 11 around 8 p.m., give or take an hour, according to SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby.
The spacecraft will measure magnetic fields on the moon, data which will be transferred to the Weizmann Institute to help scientists study how the moon was formed millions of years ago. Beresheet will send information for approximately two to three days before the sun’s rays are expected to melt parts of the communication system, ending the mission.
Beresheet will land on the moon in between the detritus left from the Apollo 12 and 15 missions. Anteby said there isn’t any plan in place to bring the spacecraft back to earth. “That will be up to our children to solve,” he said.
The Beresheet team hopes that the excitement around Israel’s first moon landing will have an “Apollo effect,” when space travel in the 1960s inspired hundreds of thousands of children in America to study science and aerospace engineering.
SpaceIL actually has more educators than engineers, including 100 volunteer educators who work in outreach at schools.
Eli Miller was one of the original volunteers in the education division, starting in 2012. “There were a lot of moments when we thought it wouldn’t work, or that we wouldn’t get the money,” said Miller.
Miller said 2017 was a real low point, with one of the Google LunarX prize deadlines approaching. Google originally extended the deadlines a few times before concluding the contest with no winner in March 2018. “There were a lot of times we asked ourselves, how will we ever do this?” said Miller, who estimates that he has given talks about Israel’s race to the moon to 5,000 to 6,000 people. “It really is amazing to be here, after all that.”
Miller has spoken to a range of groups, from 800 soldiers in the air force to engineers and school kids. The initiative also does outreach with special needs groups. “When we do talks with special needs groups, we teach them to count backwards, which can be very challenging for them, because we want them to feel like they are part of the launch,” said Dr. Ofer Doron, the general manager of the Space Division at Israel Aerospace Industries.
“I want everyone to be talking about this, talking about the mission, talking about the complexity, and maybe not talking about politics for a few days,” said Hayan. “I want parents and kids to talk about it together. For a few days a year, I want people to understand about space engineering that it can bring you to great heights.”
“Around here, we say the sky is the lower limit.”
Quelle: THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
ISRAELI LUNAR SPACECRAFT COMPLETES FIRST MANEUVER TOWARD MOON
Beresheet is set to land on Sea of Tranquility on April 11
Israel’s first lunar spacecraft, Beresheet (“Genesis” in English), successfully completed its first maneuver toward the Moon after detaching from its launcher and completing its planned orbit of Earth.
The lander will be captured by the moon when the lander's orbit around the Earth takes it into close proximity to the moon (which also orbits the Earth).
After two months, it is set to land in the Sea of Serenity, on April 11.
Scientists and technical staff at Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters were notified of the spacecraft’s high sensitivity toward the sun’s rays in the star trackers on board, but are hopeful that this issue can be resolved en route to the Moon. Sunday’s maneuver toward the Moon took into account those problems identified by the star-tracker systems, and scientists decided to move forward with the mission. Beresheet, with the go ahead from mission control, turned on its engine for the first time and successfully made its first maneuver toward the Moon just 69,400 km. (43,000 miles) from Earth’s surface. The spacecraft during this maneuver will at some point will come within 600 km. of Earth’s surface as it prepares for its next planned maneuver on Monday night. Israel made its first step to the Moon late Thursday night, as the lunar spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in a mission that, if successful, will place the Jewish state in an exclusive club of nations capable of landing on the lunar surface. If successful, the landing on the Moon will make Israel the fourth country to land on the lunar surface, after the former Soviet Union, the United States and China. It will be the first such space capsule to land on the Moon as the result of a private initiative, rather than a government-funded enterprise.
The project has been spearheaded by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries and has been in the making for several years.
“Eight years ago, we ventured on this journey that is now nearing completion.... I couldn’t be prouder than to give this gift to the people of Israel,” SpaceIL’s president and its largest funder, Morris Kahn, said. Other donations came from Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson, the Science and Technology Ministry, the ISA, the Weizmann Institute and various private individuals. The spacecraft is the smallest such craft by weight (around 1,300 lbs.) and measures only 1.5 meters by 2 meters. It cost only $100 million – far less than other larger and more expensive lunar spacecraft. “For many months, our teams and IAI’s were engaged in testing the spacecraft and its systems, conducting complex experiments and preparing for every possible scenario of the mission,” SpaceIL CEO Ido Antebi said. The spacecraft will traverse the longest distance ever to the Moon – some 6.5 million km. (around four million miles) before it lands. Beresheet will hurdle through space at up to speeds of 10 km. per second (36,000 km/hr). Earlier this week, President Reuven Rivlin noted that not only is this a national and historic achievement, it also aims to inspire young Israelis to study STEM-related (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields and pursue their dreams of space travel. In addition, the craft holds a “time capsule” of hundreds of files digitized on a disk, and contains drawings by Israeli children, the Bible, the national anthem, prayers, Israeli songs and a map of the State of Israel, along with other cultural items. Beresheet is scheduled to be stationed on the Moon for generations to come.
Quelle: The Jerusalem Post
A Bumpy Ride to the Moon: Israeli Spacecraft Hits Technical Snag
The Genesis spacecraft restarted on its own, cancelling a maneuver that would have advanced its course toward the moon
Genesis ("Beresheet" in Hebrew), Israel’s first spacecraft on its way to land on the moon, is having some complications. After the launch on Friday morning, engineers from the SpaceIL organization and Israel...
Setback for Israeli lunar lander as computer glitch prevents scheduled maneuver
Engineers examining data from Beresheet spacecraft to learn why it rebooted itself, causing automatic abort of trajectory adjustment needed to get to the moon
A hitch in computer systems Monday evening caused an Israeli lunar spacecraft to miss a scheduled adjustment in its trajectory en route to the moon, engineers reported on Tuesday.
The maneuver by the Beresheet craft was postponed after the space vehicle’s on-board computer executed an independent restart. As a result, the craft automatically canceled an engine burn scheduled to keep it on track for an April lunar landing.
“At the moment we are not very worried. Of course it isn’t nice, but we are still optimistic,” said SpaceIL CEO Dr. Ido Anteby.
The spacecraft is still set to land on the moon on April 11, as engineers built in a number of buffer days in case of delays, said Doron.
Beresheet is headed to the moon through a roundabout path that helps the tiny spacecraft, about the size of a car, save on fuel. The spacecraft will circle Earth six or seven times in a series of growing ellipses before jumping into the moon’s orbit on April 4.
The setback came a day after Beresheet successfully completed its first maneuver by firing its engine while tens of thousands of miles away from Earth. The first maneuver was at the furthest point in the first ellipse, nudging the spacecraft toward a second, larger ellipse.
The second maneuver, set for late Monday night, was scheduled to take place at the closest point to earth along the first ellipse, just 600 kilometers (370 miles) above the northern hemisphere.
Engineers are only in contact with the spacecraft for about half an hour every four hours, but Anteby said all the communication windows are working as expected. “We know we are going to lose communication, and then we’re just waiting and waiting and waiting for it to come back, and it doesn’t always come back at exactly the same moment you expect,” he said. “And then suddenly you get the communication back, and this time we saw that the maneuver wasn’t completed.”
Following the successful launch of Beresheet into space early Friday morning, the team in the control room began looking into a small problem with its star navigation system. The navigation system allows the spacecraft, which is spinning in space, to figure out its orientation. Understanding the orientation is crucial for a number of operations, including ensuring that the onboard engines that direct the spacecraft to the correct trajectory are activated in the right direction. Anteby said on Tuesday that engineers were checking to see if the involuntary reset was a side effect of the issues with the star navigation system.