The distance between Earth and the moon is 384,000 kilometres — about 30 Earth diameters away.
And on Thursday, Israel is set to make a journey to a place that only three countries have gone before, by landing the Beresheet on the lunar surface.
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The mission is being coordinated by SpaceIL, a non-profit organization that was founded in 2011 with the aim of landing Israel’s first spacecraft on the moon.
A successful mission will mean that Israel becomes the fourth country to land a spacecraft there, after the United States, Russia and China.
But that’s not the only first that the Beresheet is expected to represent: this will also be the first private spacecraft to land there, and take the longest journey to make the landing, according to the organization.
Built at a cost of $100 million — a low one, said SpaceIL — the Beresheet launched aboard the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Feb. 22.
From there, the Beresheet was to be released from Falcon9 with a velocity of over 36,000 km/h, before being launched into an elliptical orbit.
Then, the Beresheet was expected to make three major maneuvres before raising its orbit to approximately 400,000 kilometres, high enough to reach the moons’ orbit, said SpaceIL.
The spacecraft was then to enter an elliptical orbit of the moon, travelling at an altitude between 290 and 10,000 kilometres.
The Beresheet pulled off this feat a week ahead of schedule, becoming history’s smallest spacecraft to do so.
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The next step for the Beresheet was to try to enter a circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 250 kilometres. The spacecraft tightened its orbit on Tuesday, NBC News reported.
Then, through commands from Earth, it was to begin its landing, trying for an area no larger than 30 sq. km on the moon’s surface.
To make the landing, the Beresheet’s speed will have to be reduced from 6,000 km/h to zero and stop all its engines before hitting the ground in freefall.
The Beresheet is expected to land on the moon on April 11.
The spacecraft’s landing site is located hundreds of kilometres east of where the Apollo 15 landed in 1971, said a statement from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
One of the aims of the mission is to study the moon’s magnetic field, the statement said.
This will be investigated by using an instrument known as the SpaceIL Magnometer (SILMAG), which will measure the magnetism of moon rocks and help to answer how it developed a magnetic field in the first place.
“Lunar magnetism has been an enigma for decades,” said Oded Aharonson of the Weizmann Institute of Science in the statement. “It is a privilege to be part of this mission that’s taking one more step towards solving it.”
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