It came so close. She even took selfie. But just a few miles left to descend, something went wrong and the Beresheet spacecraft stepped out of control when it took another last photo just before hitting the surface. It is thought that there was an error, possibly in an inertial system, perhaps in the event of an engine failure that led to the accident.
The spacecraft was autonomous – its complex series of corrector trajectories to ensure safe landing was programmed before the start and could not be changed in real time. So, when the data were received, it shows that something went wrong, it was too late to take action. At first glance, a sad failure, which once again shows that exploration of the universe is a very risky and difficult company, which often ends with disappointment.
But that's not the right way to think about Beresheet. Despite its infamous end, the Israeli mission will be remembered as a pioneering achievement, which has helped to change the way the space industry operates. The story of Beresheth (which is Hebrew for genesis or beginning) is a determination and a driving force. Three engineers gathered to try for Google Lunar XPrize – an international competition that challenged the teams to plan, build and fly a spacecraft to the Moon and secure it safely.
The company, engineered by Space IL, attracted supporters and funding and gave it to the end – but it was not ready to start the challenge. Nevertheless, they persisted, with further donations from supporters and the general public, and came to the moon. Spacecraft is the world's first: a privately funded, non-governmental vessel launched by a privately-funded non-state startup company.
Beresheet took two months to get to the moon – compared to three days for Apollo astronauts. The reason for the prolonged transit time between the Earth and the Moon was because the vessel shared its momentum with a communications satellite and experimental aircraft, so it was placed in the orbit of the Earth, which was demanded by its companions. Beresheet had to climb from the Earth's gravitational field with gradual and increasingly elliptical orbits around the Earth, with the farthest end gradually approaching the Moon.
Over time, Beresheet was trapped by gravity of the moon and was thus pulled into an elliptical orbit around our natural satellite. Then it took another couple of weeks to move to a stable circular orbit needed to land on the lunar surface.
On April 11, the last preparations for Beresheet were made. The world watched. The importance of the mission was enormous – it showed how more people could become aliens. We need decades to build and build a space mission through the National Space Agency. Public money is included, and there must also be a fair and transparent procedure for the selection of missions to ensure that all scientific communities will have the opportunity to advance their theme, almost always behind the shrinking of budgets.
Experience with SpaceIL has shown that a small group of people with a specific goal in mind can succeed in achieving their project, literally from the starting platform, without having to go through numerous (scientific) reviews.
But why does such a mission do not happen sooner? The growth of the space industry has dramatically expanded over the past decade to ensure the constant need for satellites that circulate around the Earth. Technological advances, in particular the development of the CubeSat concept (the creation of a general framework "space bus" into which instruments can be inserted, instead of having to tailor each bus to customize its cargo), revolutionized the design and design of freight, leading to savings for costs with duplication of parts.
Now we also have independent companies that can supply rockets and launch vehicles for delivering vehicles into space, which allows the chain to be fully implemented in the private sector from concept to launch.
The end of private research?
It may seem that the loss of Beresheet will end the development of private space missions. But I do not think so. Now we know what is possible, I think there will be a more open debate on how space agencies and private companies can work together and take advantage of others. After all, this has been happening for some time with NASA and SpaceX, with NASA hit SpaceX to re-supply the International Space Station.
Will Beresheet's experience affect space tourism, an industry that is barely in its infancy? I doubt. Companies that are trying to make people into space have their own launch devices, spacecraft and mission concepts that this event is unlikely to disappoint.
Beresheet's scientific goals were modest – to make some photos of the landing site and to make magnetic measurements that could be linked to the surrounding geology and landscape. Maybe lunar science is likely to get these results without these results.
But Beresheet's contribution to the exploration of the universe in general and in particular the exploration of the Moon is much more than his scientific instruments. These are the future prospects Beresheet presents, which makes our ability to explore beyond the Earth just as close to home as possible.