SpaceIL’s engineering team and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Thursday evening at 5:17 p.m. (Israel team) conducted the most critical maneuver to date of Beresheet’s journey to the moon – the “lunar capture.” This maneuver enabled the spacecraft to be captured by the moon’s gravity and begin orbiting the moon – and together with the moon, orbiting Earth.
Thursday’s maneuver moved the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit around the moon, with the closest point (perilune) 500 km to the moon, with the farthest point (apolune) 10,000 km from the moon. Unlike the longer orbits around Earth, Beresheet’s first lunar orbit will last 14 hours. Before it lands on the moon, each orbit thereafter will take only two hours. At the beginning of this week, Beresheet reached, for the last time, the closest point to Earth in its last Earth orbit, only 1,700 km, and continued on course to the point where it could join the lunar orbit, 400,000 km from Earth.
At 5:18 p.m. Israel time the spacecraft’s engine activated for six minutes, and reduced its speed by 1,000 km/hour, from 8,500 km/hour to 7,500 km/hour, relative to the moon’s velocity. The maneuver was conducted with full communication between Beresheet’s control room in Israel and the spacecraft, and signals in real time match the correct course.
In the coming week, with expected intense engineering activities, many more maneuvers will take Beresheet from an elliptical to a round orbit, at a height of 200 km over the moon. The maneuvers will aim to reduce the spacecraft’s distance from the moon and reach the optimal point to conduct an autonomic landing in the Sea of Serenity in the evening, Israel time, of April 11.