NASA Captures Images of Israeli Spacecraft's Lunar Crash Site

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter passed over the landing site on April 22 and identified a mark on the surface made by Beresheet's April 11 crash

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Beresheet impact site as seen by LROC 11 days after the attempted landing.
Beresheet impact site as seen by LROC 11 days after the attempted landing.Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

NASA released photographs on Wednesday of the crash site where the Israeli spacecraft, Beresheet, struck the moon, after the spacecraft built by SpaceIL crashed while attempting to land on the moon on April 11.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been observing the moon for a decade from orbit, passed over the landing site on April 22 and imaged the site with its three cameras from a height of about 90 kilometers (56 miles).

By comparing the image to images from previous orbits, NASA was able to identify a mark on the moon's surface that was consistent with the size and shape of the impact site Beresheet would create. According to NASA, the mark was the only new feature in that area compared to images taken before the crash.

According to NASA, the Israeli spacecraft crashed in a region of the moon called the Sea of Serenity, which is an ancient volcanic field and was the intended landing site for Beresheet.

NASA was able to determine the approximate coordinates of the crash site, accurate within a few miles, from radio tracking of Beresheet as it made its moon landing attempt. NASA said that the mark was consistent with other craters made by spacecraft of a similar size that struck the moon at about the same speed. They also said that the shape of the halo around the crash site was consistent with Beresheet's angle of approach.

The LRO passes over every part of the moon twice a month – once during lunar day and once during lunar night. It will have another opportunity to photograph the site on May 19.

Left: Beresheet impact site. Right: An image processed to highlight changes near the landing site among photos taken before and after the landing, revealing a white impact halo. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

On April 11, the Israeli moon lander Beresheet failed to be the first spacecraft built by the private sector to safely land on the moon. After entering orbit, the spacecraft lost its main engine and went into an uncontrolled descent before it crashed.

The Israeli spacecraft had to tackle one of the biggest challenges of its lunar journey – the landing maneuver, the last stage of which was controlled solely by the spacecraft’s computer.

The landing began as planned, with Beresheet managing to snap two photos, one of which was a "selfie" bearing a sign that reads "Am Yisrael Chai" (meaning "The nation of Israel lives").

After initiating landing protocol, the control room said it lost contact with one of the landing detectors when the spacecraft was less than ten kilometers from the surface.

Moshe Kahn, the main financial backer of the Beresheet moon shot, announced plans for Beresheet 2 on April 13, saying he had decided that "we started something and we need to finish it. We will reach the moon and we will put the Israeli flag on the moon."

The results of an investigation into the crash will be published later this month.

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