Credit: SpaceIL/Israel Aerospace Industries

The engineering teams of SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) tomorrow will perform the most critical maneuver yet in Beresheet’s journey to the Moon.

Credit: SpaceIL/Israel Aerospace Industries

Lunar orbit insertion, or “Lunar Capture,” allows the spacecraft to enter the Moon’s gravity and begin orbiting prior to landing.

The maneuver will be performed tomorrow April 4, at 5:15 p.m. Israel time (10:15 a.m. ET)

Beresheet has been circling Earth in elliptical orbits and has performed several maneuvers in order to send it higher and further away.

Meeting the Moon

Earlier this week, Beresheet passed its closest point to Earth for the last time, at 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles), and continued to its meeting point with the Moon at a range of 400,000 kilometers (248,548 miles).

Credit: SpaceIL/Israel Aerospace Industries

Unlike maneuvers Beresheet has performed so far, when its engines were operated to accelerate the craft, the current engine operation is meant to slow the spacecraft’s velocity, so it is captured by lunar gravity.

The braking will reduce Beresheet’s velocity relative to the Moon from 8,500 km/h (5,281 mph) to 7,500 km/h (4,660 mph).

Spacecraft risks

If the slowdown does not take place as planned, the spacecraft risks leaving Earth’s gravity while missing the Moon’s gravity and will enter a different and undesirable orbit in the solar system. This would bring the mission to an end.

A successful maneuver will position the spacecraft on an elliptical orbit around the Moon, in which the nearest point (perilune) is 500 km (310 miles) away from the Moon, while the farthest one (apolune) is 10,000 km (6,213 miles) away.

Credit: SpaceIL/Israel Aerospace Industries

Landing approach

In the week following the capture, the SpaceIl and IAI teams will perform several maneuvers to reduce the orbits around the Moon from an elliptical to a round orbit 200 km (124 miles) above the Moon.

Unlike the long Earth orbits, the first lunar orbits will last 14 hours.

As Beresheet approaches landing, each lunar orbit will last only two hours. These maneuvers are meant to lower the spacecraft’s altitude and reach the optimal point for autonomous landing in the Moon’s Sea of Serenity the evening of April 11.

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