Israel’s Moon-bound Spaceship Beresheet Successfully Completes First Maneuver

Beresheet is expected to land on the moon on April 11 and would be the smallest vehicle ever to accomplish that

A Falcon 9 launching the Nusantara Satu satellite to orbit, carrying Israel's Beresheet spacecraft, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Beresheet, Israel’s first spaceship, successfully completed its first maneuver. Its main engine was activated without a hitch for the first time since it was launched into space early Friday morning. The module will complete its second orbit around earth, with a second maneuver scheduled for Sunday night.

Every time Beresheet (Hebrew for “Genesis”) completes an orbit it executes another maneuver, designed to move it further away from earth. Thus, with orbits at successively increasing distances, it will eventually reach the moon, in a trajectory resembling an elliptical spiral. The advantage of this method, which relies on earth’s gravity, is that it saves fuel.

Sunday’s maneuver took place 69,400 kilometers away from earth, lasting 30 seconds. The team of engineers at SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, which operated the landing during the maneuver, needed to overcome a problem in one of the positioning systems, called star-trackers. These are sensors that locate stars around the spaceship in order to determine its location. After the launch, it became apparent that the trackers are more sensitive than expected to sunlight, which could make it hard to detect other stars.

Beresheet was launched successfully late Thursday night from Cape Canaveral. After 33 minutes it separated from the booster rocket and started circling the earth. It is expected to land on the moon on April 11 and would be the smallest vehicle to accomplish that. One of SpaceIL’s founders, Yariv Bash, said that “the launch was cool, but the hard part is ahead of us.”

It will travel 6.5 million kilometers, the longest trajectory of any spaceship that’s gone from earth to the moon. The $100 million price tag is significantly lower than previous expeditions. If successful, Israel will be the fourth country to land on the moon.