A historic mission to the Moon is approaching its crescendo, with the Israeli-built Beresheet lander today entering orbit around our biggest satellite and preparing to close in on its surface. If successful, it will become the first privately built spacecraft to touch down on the Moon, and would make Israel just the fourth nation to do so after the US, the Soviet Union and China.
Beresheet, which is Hebrew for "In the Beginning," launched from Cape Canaveral in February atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, where it became the first private mission to the Moon to reach lift-off. Originally built for the Google Lunar XPrize competition (which ended with no winner), the spacecraft is actually the lightest ever sent to the Moon with a mass of just 1,322 lb (600 kg).
Once it makes it to the lunar surface, Beresheet will return images, videos and data gathered by a magnetometer, to explore the possibility of a magnetic field on the Moon in the past, and a small laser retroreflector, which will be tested as a potential navigation tool. But there's room for sentimentality, too, with a digital time capsule also packed aboard containing an Israeli flag, a holocaust survivor memorial and the Israeli Declaration of Independence, along with other bits and pieces.
The organization behind the lander, SpaceIL, confirmed it had moved into circulation around the Moon today, with the spacecraft entering an elliptical orbit. If all goes to plan, the spacecraft will touch down on an ancient volcanic field on the Moon known as the Sea of Serenity on April 11.
The video below demonstrates how Beresheet was moved into lunar orbit.
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