Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft on Tuesday successfully completed its fourth and final maneuver around the Earth before approaching the moon, placing it on track for a historic landing on the Moon’s Sea of Serenity in two weeks.
Beresheet’s engine was activated for 60 seconds, putting it into a new orbit that takes it as far as 405,000 kilometers (252,000) from Earth.
The SpaceIL firm, which built the spacecraft and is controlling its operations, said the maneuver was performed a day ahead of schedule, and that smaller adjustments to Beresheet’s orbit would be carried out over the coming days.
Beresheet, which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, lifted off on February 22 from Cape Canaveral atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.
The four-legged Beresheet, barely the size of a washing machine, was programmed to circle Earth in ever bigger loops until it is captured by lunar gravity on April 4 and goes into orbit around the moon instead.
Touchdown is planned for April 11.
Earlier this month, Beresheet sent back a photo taken with its “selfie camera,” in which the Israeli flag can be seen 37,600 kilometers (23,000 miles) above Earth.
A plaque installed on the outside of the lunar lander depicts Israel’s national flag as well as the phrases “Am Yisrael Chai” (the people of Israel live) and “Small country, big dreams.”
If successful, Beresheet will make history twice: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the first craft from Israel to reach the orb.