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Stars align as Beresheet spacecraft prepares for lunar capture



The Beresheet spacecraft has successfully carried out final maneuvers in order to position itself in a spot where it can jump into the lunar orbit on Thursday, the SpaceIL and the Israeli Aerospace Industries team announced.

The engineers said they activated the spacecraft's engines for 72 seconds early Monday morning, in what is likely to be one of the last maneuvers before the complex lunar capture. On Thursday, the spacecraft will reach the moon's orbit and will need to activate onboard engines precisely in the right moment to enter the elliptical orbit around the moon.

The four-legged Beresheet, about the size of a small car, is the last and largest elliptical loop around Earth before it maneuvers into the moon's orbit on April 4th.

Touchdown is scheduled for April 1

1 at the Sea of ​​Serenity.

The move requires the ultimate precision: if the engines are not activated for sufficient time, the craft will fail to be captured by the moon's weak gravitational pull. If the engines are activated for too long, it could overshoot the moon entirely. There is a very small window of opportunity where the moon's orbit crosses the elliptical orbit of the spacecraft.

Having overcome some small glitches with unexpected system reset and some problems with star tracking navigation system, the spacecraft is scheduled to make the landing.

A computer simulation shows the route that the Beresheet spacecraft will take the moon, with a series of larger ellipses around the Earth until it reaches an orbit around the moon. (courtesy SpaceIL)

Beresheet, which means "Genesis" in Hebrew, lifted off on February 22 from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop a Falcon 9 rocket from the private US-based SpaceX company of entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Last month Beresheet sends back a photo taken with its "selfie camera", in which the Israeli flag can be seen 37,600 kilometers (23,000 miles) above Earth.

The NES 370 million ($ 100 million) Beresheet spacecraft is a joint venture between private companies SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, funded almost entirely by private donations from well-known Jewish philanthropists. The project launched as an Israeli entry into the Google LunarX challenge for nongovernmental groups to land a spacecraft on the moon.

With Beresheet, Israel hopes to become the fourth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the Moon following the US, Russia. , and China.

Beresheet is display before its launch, December 17, 2018. (Ariel Schalit / AP)

If successful, Beresheet will make history two times: as the first private-sector landing on the Moon, and the

If Beresheet lands successfully on April 11th, it will be expected that the spacecraft will carry out two or three days of experiments collecting data about the Moon's magnetic fields before shutting down. There, under 160 kilograms (350 pounds) of the lunar lander will stay, possibly for eternity, on the moon's surface, joining about 181,000 kilograms (400,000 pounds per Earth mass) of manmade debris strewn across the moon's surface.

The distance between Earth and the moon is about 384,000 kilometers (240,000 miles). The Beresheet's elliptical route, which saves fuel needs by harnessing the gravitational pull of the Earth, will cover about 6.5 million kilometers (4 million miles). The spacecraft is traveling at a speed of about 10 km / sec (36,000 km / h) on its way to the moon, or 13 times faster than the maximum speed of an F15 fighter jet.

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