After its first attempt botched the landing, SpaceIL commits to second Beresheet lunar mission

The minds behind Israel’s SpaceIL attempted lunar landing convened today to begin planning for a second lunar mission.

In an announcement yesterday, the chairman of SpaceIL, Morris Kahn, said that the leaders of the group behind the Beresheet launch would begin meeting to find a new group of donors for another run at a lunar landing.

On Thursday the first Israeli mission to the moon ended in failure when the organization’s spacecraft Beresheet (which means Genesis in Hebrew) crashed on the lunar surface.

“This is part of my message to the younger generation: Even if you do not succeed, you get up again and try,” Kahn said in a statement.

At a cost of $200 million the Beresheet mission would have been among the cheapest lunar landings ever attempted — and the first legitimate attempt by a private organization to make it to the moon (even though the SpaceIL organization had significant backing from the Israeli government).

The project started as an attempt to claim the Google Lunar Xprize, which was announced over ten years ago and was not awarded because no team could make an attempt at a landing within the timeframe specified. But, Beresheet’s developers labored on with help from Israel Aerospace Industries — the country’s state-owned aviation business.

In part, the cost of the lunar landing was defrayed by using existing launch technologies. Beresheet started its voyage by hitching a ride on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

After spiraling out of earth’s orbit for a month and a half, the Beresheet spacecraft entered lunar orbit just over a week ago before making its attempted landing last Thursday.

The final maneuver was an engine burn that would slow the spacecraft’s descent onto the lunar surface so that it could park on the Moon’s Sea of Serenity.

The vehicle made it most of the way to the moon. It took a picture of the blue marble from about 22 kilometers above the lunar surface and — a few minutes later — was lost.

Both Peter Diamandis, the founder of XPrize, and Anousheh Ansari, the foundation’s current chief executive, spoke to TechCrunch about the landing last week.

“What I’m seeing here is an incredible ‘Who’s Who’ from science, education and government who have gathered to watch this miracle take place,” Diamandis said. “We launched this competition now 11 years ago to inspire and educate engineers, and despite the fact that it ran out of time it has achieved 100 percent of its goal. Even if it doesn’t make it onto the ground fully intact it has ignited a level of electricity and excitement that reminds me of the Ansari Xprize 15 years ago.”

Meanwhile, Ansari emphasized the potential to reinvigorate commercial interest in lunar exploration and experimentation that the landing could evoke.

“Imagine, over the last 50 years only 500 people out of seven billion have been to space — that number will be thousands soon,” she said. “We believe there’s so much more that can be done in this area of technology, a lot of real business opportunities that benefit civilization but also humanity.”

China’s lunar probe makes history by successfully soft-landing on the far side of the moon

It’s not Lunar New Year yet, but there is something new on the moon. In a major milestone for space exploration, China announced that its lunar program has successfully soft-landed a probe on the far side of the moon, making it the first one to do so. The historic landing was reported by Xinhua, China’s official news agency, earlier today.

According to the China National Space Administration, the probe, consisting of a lander and rover, touched down at about 10:26AM Beijing time. This is the first ever soft-landing (meaning a landing without damage or destruction to the space vehicle) on the far side of the moon, which is never visible from Earth. Named after the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e-4 launched on Dec. 8 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province.

The South China Morning Post reported earlier this week that the Chang’e-4 will be used for “astronomical observation using low-frequency radio, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure, and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms.” The successful soft-landing is important for space exploration because there is relatively little information about the far side of the moon compared to the side visible from Earth, which has been explored and surveyed by previous missions.

Photographs taken by earlier spacecraft, including the Soviet Union’s Luna 3 and Zond 3 (launched in 1959 and 1965, respectively) and NASA’s Lunar Orbiter program (launched in 1966), found significant differences between the far side’s terrain and the surface of the moon visible from Earth. In 1962, NASA’s Ranger 4 probe became the first spacecraft to impact on the moon, but was unable to send back data after landing.

Since direct communication between Chang’e-4 and Earth is blocked because of the probe’s position, China also launched a relay satellite called Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge, that is currently 400,000 km above Earth, positioned between it and the moon.

Chang’e-4’s successful landing concludes the second phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP). The first phase was the launch of Yutu, the lunar rover of Chang’e-3, which landed on the moon in December 2013, but stopped moving after 40 days due to a mechanical problem (it is still able to transmit data and photos, including true color high-definition photos). The successful landing of Chang’e-3 was another a significant milestone for China’s space program, making it only the third country after the U.S. and Soviet Union to soft-land on the moon. After Chang’e-4, the third and final phase of CLEP will be a returnable spacecraft called Chang’e-5. Set to launch by 2020, Chang’e-5 will be used to collect samples.

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