The Israeli spacecraft Genesis faces the first of the great challenges of its mission on the moon: "capture the moon" or get out of the Earth's orbit to enter that of the moon.
If the maneuver succeeds, the probe once seized by the gravitational pull of the moon will orbit the Earth's natural satellite and gradually move closer to it in order to achieve a planned landing of the moon in exactly one week.
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If the events of the future unfold as planned, Genesis will enter the history of space and become the first private spacecraft to carry out this ambitious mission. The very low cost of the project, compared to other lunar missions, at $ 100 million, is also an important step in the new era of human interplanetary travel, which should grow and commercialize thanks to the success of this mission.
Eran Schmidt, deputy project director and head of ground systems for SpaceIL, said the spacecraft was now circling the Earth in an increasingly wide elliptical trail, with the help of maneuvers aimed at increasing his speed and further away from the Earth.
Around 5:15 pm In Israel, the satellite is expected to be 400,000 kilometers from the planet and close to the moon. Then, engines will be used to slow it down from 8,500 km / h to 7,500 km / h. The maneuver will be done autonomously via a series of instructions to the computer of the spacecraft. This slowdown will allow him to be caught in the gravitational pull of the moon, then to place him an elliptical orbit around the satellite, leaning up to 500 kilometers from the surface of the moon.
If the maneuver fails, another opportunity will come in about an hour later, Schmidt adds, adding that if the second attempt fails, the spacecraft would slip out of the gravitational pull force of the earth and the moon and would wind up in another orbit around the sun. It would mean the failure of the mission. If successful, the spacecraft would move to the next stage at a distance of 200 kilometers from the Moon, orbiting it for 14 hours, each orbit traveled. Then, a planned additional maneuver would carry the satellite at a height of 15 kilometers above the moon, where he would receive a series of instructions leading to an autonomous landing, using his engines. Once the vehicle arrives four or five meters from the surface of the moon, the engines stop so that the aircraft can fall to the ground. Experts hope the spacecraft's special landing gear will allow it to survive this fall.
The engineer described the three major maneuvers of the mission as being the launch, capturing the moon and the autonomous landing. Unfortunately, taking on a challenge does not mean that others will succeed as well. Schmidt says that there are two other optional landing sites. It is expected that the landing will take place at sunrise because the daytime temperatures on the moon are very high. The spacecraft can then run for 72 hours before it gets too hot.
The Genesis, built by SpaceIL with the help of XPRIZE and LunarX, debuted in 2007 as competitors. She challenged several entrepreneurs to build a space vehicle that could land on the moon, travel about 500 meters and send a video of what he could capture. The competition is over without a winner, but all competitors continue their efforts to build a spacecraft that can reach the moon. Over the next two years, contractors in other projects are hoping to join Genesis to also install aerial vehicles.
Last year, the US space agency announced that nine US or US-based companies could compete for LunarX tenders to transport NASA merchandise to the moon. Last month, NASA unveiled a dozen calls for proposals that it plans to launch with a budget of $ 2.6 billion over 10 years.
Part of the private interest in exploring the moon is related to the development of technologies to exploit the mineral wealth of the satellite. It is too early to say whether the dream of harnessing the moon's resources can materialize in the foreseeable future, but many people view the satellite as the new "wild west" and are looking for ways to use it. The isotopes of gold, silver, titanium and helium 3 needed for nuclear fusion are found on the moon and nearby asteroids. But the main economic value of the moon seems to be limited not only to its rare minerals, but also to abundant material on the Earth: water.
The price of fuel is one of the most expensive aspects of space travel. It takes huge amounts to get out of Earth's orbit. About 85% of the weight of the Saturn5 used to send American astronauts to the moon was fuel. The same goes for rocket fuel so far. By comparison, fuel represents only 4% of the weight of the average car. Therefore, if you want to plan long space trips, the spacecraft must carry enough fuel for the entire mission or find a way to refuel en route. The moon could provide a place for such a refueling center. The frozen water at its poles could be broken down and used as rocket fuel. Thus, whoever succeeds in claiming water from the moon's poles will gain a considerable advantage in the race to conquer the solar system.
In addition to history and entrepreneurial achievements, the success of the moon's capture would also launch Genesis' scientific missions: Decoding the Magnetic Mysteries of Moon Rocks. In research conducted in cooperation with the Weizmann Institute, a magnetometer placed on the spacecraft will be used to try to understand how the lunar rocks obtained their magnetism. Professor Oded Aharonson of Weizmann's Department of Earth Sciences, who is leading the project, said the moon did not have magnetic fields. However, research has shown that some lunar rocks have magnetic qualities. They aim to discover how they acquired this ability: whether it was due to an internal process that took place at an earlier phase of the moon's life or because of: an external factor such as the landing of a moon asteroid.
The Earth's magnetic field was created by the circular motion of its metallic and liquid core. But to the scientists' knowledge, the moon is much smaller and colder than the Earth and its core is frozen. Therefore, we do not think that the moon has its own magnetic field. The research aims to learn more about the history of the moon by the magnetism of its rocks and to determine if the moon has already had a magnetic field. As the spacecraft orbits around the moon in smaller and smaller circles, the magnetometer will measure the magnetism of the rocks in different regions to determine if there is a system that matches the age and character of the magnetic rocks that could tell us something about their physical attributes.