On Saturday, just two days after the Beresheet spacecraft crashed into the Moon, the president of SpaceIL said the organization would move forward. Beginning this week, Morris Kahn said, a new task force would learn from its failures and begin developing a new plan for a Beresheet 2 spacecraft.
“We’re going to build a new spacecraft, we’re going to put it on the Moon, and we’re going to complete the mission,” said Kahn, a billionaire who personally donated $40 million to the private Israeli effort.
So far, SpaceIL has provided few additional details about the project, such as when it might launch. The original project, started to win the Google Lunar XPrize, began eight years ago.
In a reddit AMA on Sunday, one of the team’s engineers, Ben Nathaniel, added this about the new proposal. “Beresheet 2 was only just announced. It will be a major project that will take major planning, coordination and last but not least, financing. At this time there are so many factors at play that we can’t yet make a prediction when exactly it will be launched. We do hope to still be the first private company to land on the Moon.”
Also this weekend, SpaceIL released some preliminary information on what may have gone wrong with the landing attempt—which was conducted autonomously. The first technical issue occurred about 14km above the Moon’s surface, which triggered a chain of events that led to the spacecraft’s main engine to fail temporarily. (This may have involved one of Beresheet’s IMUs, or inertial measurement units, but so fair SpaceIL has not specified a cause). At this altitude, the spacecraft was already committed to landing on the Moon.
Eventually, the main engine’s function returned, but at that point the spacecraft was just 150 meters above the ground, moving 500 km/h toward the surface. Needless to say, this was a terminal velocity. SpaceIL engineers intend to conduct “comprehensive tests” this week to better understand the sequence of events that triggered a temporary failure of the main engine.
In the meantime, the project has won plaudits for its openness and willingness to fail in public view. NASA has had a similar policy since the beginning of its exploration efforts.
“I want to thank @TeamSpaceIL for doing this landing with millions watching around the world, despite knowing the risks,” NASA’s science chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, tweeted after the landing attempt. “We do the same because we believe in the value of worldwide exploration and inspiration. We encourage all international and commercial explorers to do the same!” This seemed a none-too-subtle nudge toward China, which recently landed on the far side of the Moon, but only announced that fact several hours after mission success.