On February 22, 2019, SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit organization specializing in space, announced that it had successfully launched a satellite, Beresheet, to the moon. In roughly two months, the unmanned spacecraft will attempt a landing on the moon in order to conduct experiments and capture photographs.
The satellite, whose name means “in the beginning” in Hebrew, would be the first Israeli spacecraft to reach the moon. The team at SpaceIL faces a challenge in landing successfully on the moon; only three countries – the United States, Russia, and China – have ever performed a soft landing on the lunar surface. Additionally, according to SpaceIL cofounder Yonatan Winetraub, Beresheet is the “first privately funded interplanetary mission.”
The Beresheet spacecraft was launched with the assistance of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket that guided it through the atmosphere at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Upon leaving Earth’s atmosphere, Beresheet entered into an elliptical orbit around the moon. The spacecraft will gradually enlarge its orbit around the Earth until it is captured by the moon’s gravitational field in roughly two months.
According to SpaceIL, the primary goal of the mission is to find an explanation for the existence of magnetic regions on the moon’s surface. The discovery of these magnetic locations came as a surprise to many scientists due to the Moon not having any global magnetic field as the Earth does. According to Professor Oded Aharonson, the lead scientist of the Beresheet project, the spacecraft will analyze lunar rocks in order to learn more about the Moon’s magnetism. The spacecraft will also place retroreflectors on the lunar surface, adding on to the existing solar panels on the Moon.
Although the project’s outcome hangs in relative uncertainty, the scientists and engineers at SpaceIL remain hopeful that the spacecraft will successfully land on the moon.