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We now know why Israel’s lunar lander crashed into the Moon

Published Apr 12th, 2019 3:17PM EDT
moon lander crash

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Yesterday, Israel’s first mission to the Moon ended in a rather abrupt and unsatisfying manner. SpaceIL’s Beresheet lunar lander, which was part of a privately-funded mission that would have made Israel the fourth country to successfully land on the Moon, faltered at the very last second.

In the immediate aftermath of the lander’s crash it as unclear exactly what went wrong. An issue with the spacecraft’s engine was suspected, but the lander’s signal was lost shortly after the engine came back online so answers were hard to come by. Now, after studying the data from the landing attempt, SpaceIL has a better idea of what went wrong.

“Preliminary technical information collected by the teams shows that the first technical issue occurred at 14 km above the Moon,” SpaceIL explained in a tweet. “At 150 meters when the connection with #Beresheet was lost, it was moving at 500 km/h, making a collision inevitable.”

“Our engineers think that a technical glitch in one of the components caused the main engine to shut down – making it impossible to slow the spacecraft’s descent. By the time the engine was restarted its velocity was too high to land properly.”

This is essentially what we assumed happened based on what viewers were able to see during the live stream of the landing attempt. The engine lost power and the spacecraft’s signal went dark just moments after it was fired back up.

It’s a massive disappointment for SpaceIL and anyone who was following Beresheet’s journey. Still, the mission was a success in a number of ways, not least of which is the fact that it successfully entered lunar orbit in the first place, which is no easy task.

In a related piece of awesome news, the XPrize group has decided to award a $1 million “Moonshot Award” to SpaceIL in order to help the team get started on whatever ventures they will be pursuing next.

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