Israeli lunar craft successfully completes first maneuver

Team behind private Beresheet venture says engine activated at distance of 69,400 kilometers from earth

A computer simulation shows the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet's position after launch (YouTube screenshot)
A computer simulation shows the Israeli spacecraft Beresheet's position after launch (YouTube screenshot)

Israel’s first lunar-bound spacecraft successfully carried out its first maneuver on Sunday after completing its first orbit around the earth, the team behind the privately funded Beresheet project said.

According to a joint statement from IAI and SpaceIL, the 30-second maneuver, made 69,400 kilometers from earth, enabled the spacecraft to edge closer to the moon.

The four-legged Beresheet, barely the size of a washing machine, will circle Earth in ever bigger loops until it’s captured by lunar gravity and goes into orbit around the moon instead. Touchdown is planned for April 11 at the Sea of Serenity.

Sunday’s maneuver “will increase the spacecraft’s closest point of approach to Earth [during its elliptical orbit] to a distance of 600 kilometers,” the statement said.

“This is the first time Beresheet’s main engine was activated – the maneuver was completed successfully!” it added.

The statement stressed that the implementation of the maneuver took into consideration problems with the spacecraft’s star navigation system.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifting off with the Beresheet spacecraft on February 22, 2019, as seen on the command center screens in Yehud, Israel. (SpaceIL)

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 Israeli team said glare from the sun on the spacecraft’s sensors was making it more difficult than expected for the spacecraft to orient itself according to the position of the stars as it prepared for its first orbit around the Earth, the first stage of its slow seven-week journey to the moon.

However, the team said it believed the issue was a minor one, and said there were other ways for the craft to maneuver itself into a correct path.

The next maneuver is scheduled for Tuesday night.

Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, lifted from Cape Canaveral atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

If successful, Beresheet will make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first from the Jewish state.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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