The Israeli privately-financed SpaceIL Beresheet (B’reshit) unmanned lunar landing probe has crashed on the Moon following a complication that caused its landing engine to be cut off at a key moment.

Having hitched a paid-for ride on a Falcon 9 launch on 22 February, and weighing 585 kg at launch, the IAI-built Beresheet raised its initial transfer orbit in stages to eventually reach the Moon on 4 April. Once there, an engine burn let the spacecraft achieve lunar orbit. The spacecraft then slowly lowered its lunar orbit until it was only 200 x 16 km around the Moon.

Then, at 1912 GMT on 11 April, the Beresheet lander began a final burn in an attempt to land from an altitude of 26 km. However, the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) temporarily failed at 14 km altitude above the Moon. A ground command to reset the IMU inadvertently triggered a chain of events that caused the main engine to be cut off. A restart was attempted but it was too late to prevent a crash. The impact at circa 300 miles per hour (500 KPH) occurred at 1923 GMT and the spacecraft was lost.

Beresheet had been designed to take magnetic readings from the Moon using a magnetometer. It also carried a camera for capturing pictures of the Lunar surface, a video camera for the landing sequence and a retro-reflector for laser tracking, and a time-capsule of digital files.

Beresheet should have looked like this at landing. Courtesy: SpaceIL