WASHINGTON – As SpaceIL continues its investigation into its unsuccessful lunar landing attempt on April 11, its sponsors and other members of the space community remain optimistic about efforts to develop such spacecraft in private. , despite technical difficulties.
In a statement on April 12, SpaceIL said that a technical problem related to an unspecified component had triggered an "event chain" that had shut down the main engine of the Beresheet LG at its descent to the lunar surface, thus condemning the mission.
This initial problem occurred while Beresheet was 14 kilometers above sea level. The statement does not deal with the specific problem or other problems that led to the malfunction of the engine, but during the mission's webcast, mission control officials mentioned at one point the problem of inertial measurement on the undercarriage.
The LG was able to restart its main engine, but according to him, "at that time, his speed was too high to slow down and the landing could not finish as expected". The telemetry was permanently lost from the LG at an altitude of 150 meters, showing that the spacecraft was down to 500 km / h, far too fast for a soft landing.
SpaceIL said that "comprehensive tests" are planned for next week to better understand the events that led to the failure of the landing, but has not given any timetable for publication additional details on the cause of the landing.
SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization funded primarily on a philanthropic basis, originally planned to build a very small undercarriage as a competitor of the Google Lunar X. The size and cost of the spacecraft have increased over time, resulting in a spacecraft weighing nearly 600 kilograms at launch and a total cost of about $ 100 million.
SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the company that built Beresheet for SpaceIL, have received many accolades for their close proximity to a successful landing. "Every attempt to reach new milestones opens up opportunities for us to learn, adjust and move forward," said NASA's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, in a statement after the ####################################### Failure of his landing. "I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and look forward to celebrating their future achievements."
"This is a tremendous technological achievement for the State of Israel, which is now one of the seven superpowers that have reached this stage of the moon," Harel Locker, president of the IAI, said in a statement. "This project lasted eight years and has made a significant contribution to the Israeli space industry, which has today become one of the world's leading space industries."
The failure, however, highlights the technical difficulties of landing on the moon, a question that is increasingly weighing on other companies planning similar exploits. This includes the nine companies participating in NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Payload Services (CLPS) program. Of these nine companies, only one, Lockheed Martin, has extensive experience in developing lander missions, although a second company, Draper, has a legacy going back to the Apollo Lunar Landers. The others are dominated by startups that, in most cases, have not yet launched any spacecraft into space, much less developed a lander.
When NASA announced the CLPS program last year, agency officials pointed out that they understood the risks and that not all missions would succeed. "Our hope is to score a goal every year," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Deputy Administrator for Science, at a Space Studies Board meeting last May. "A reasonable expectation is a 50% success rate in the beginning. It's not zero and it's not 100. "
"The space is difficult, but it's worth taking risks. If we succeed each time, there would be no reward, "tweeted Zurbuchen after the failure of the Beresheet landing. He commended SpaceIL for approaching a landing and said he would be traveling to Israel later this year to discuss possible future co-operation. "We look forward to exploring future possibilities to explore the Moon together."
Originally, SpaceIL wanted Beresheet to be a one-time mission, its goal not to allow a sustainable commercial activity on the moon, but to inspire Israeli students to pursue a career in science. and engineering. However, IAI said it was interested in future commercial opportunities for Beresheet-based landers, including an agreement reached in January with the German company OHB to study the use of these landers for future missions of the European Space Agency.
Meir Nissim Nir, director of advanced space systems at IAI, said at the 60th lunar exploration workshop organized by Microsymposium last month in Houston that these landers could be ready for missions as early as the end of 2020 if the contracts were signed and the work done in Israel. He also said the company was looking for potential US partners that would make it eligible for the next phases of the CLPS program, which requires the construction of landing gear in the United States.
"We are now discussing with several groups the possibility of teaming up and doing it in the United States," he said. "It will of course take a little longer, but it's a viable opportunity."
Benjamin Netanyahu, re-elected earlier in the week for a new term as Israeli Prime Minister, was among those who were under the control of the SpaceIL mission to observe the landing. "If at first you fail, you still try," he said after the failed landing, suggesting that another mission, funded this time by the Israeli government, could be carried out in the coming years.