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With Beresheet, Israel becomes 7th country to achieve lunar orbit

Engineers confirmed early Friday morning that the Beresheet spacecraft was successfully captured by lunar gravity during a tricky maneuver the night before, making Israel the seventh country in the world to successfully send objects into orbit around the Moon.

The United States, Russia (as the USSR), Japan, China, the European Space Agency and India have all made visits to the Moon via probes, though only the US, Russia and China have successfully landed on the Moon; other probes lost control and crashed into the surface.

Early on Friday morning, Beresheet sent back photos, one taken at a distance of just 470 kilometers (290 miles) above the Moon’s surface.

In order for the spacecraft to successfully enter into an orbit around the Moon, Beresheet needed to slow down from 8,500 kilometers per second (5,280 miles per second) to 7,500 kilometers per second (4,660 miles per second). Although that still seems fast to mere humans, according to engineers, it is the orbital equivalent of slamming on the brakes. The engineers accomplished this by turning the spacecraft so that its engines thrust it in the opposite direction, slowing down the speed.

It took about nine minutes for eight different engines to slowly maneuver the spacecraft in the right direction, and a little less than six minutes for the engines to slow the spacecraft down to the correct speed.

Now drawn into lunar orbit, Beresheet will trace smaller and smaller loops around the Moon before attempting to land on April 11 in the Sea of Serenity.

“There is a significant chance we have a crash landing,” said Opher Doron, the space division general manager at Israel Aerospace Industries. “It’s very dangerous, and it’s difficult to predict if we’ll succeed.”

Header image: The Beresheet spacecraft snapped this picture of the Moon’s surface at a height of just 470 kilometers during the lunar capture maneuver on April 4, 2019. (Courtesy Beresheet)