BGU | The Sky is No Limit

The spacecraft ultimately went through five different designs before the team arrived at a structure that could reach the moon. The construction of the Beresheet spacecraft was, likewise, fraught with many ups and downs; An “emotional roller coaster,” according to Damri, “which oscillated between exciting breakthroughs and milestones, such as signing the launch agreement with SpaceX and a contract with NASA, and a range of engineering, personnel, and financial setbacks.” The actual physical construction of Beresheet-1 finally began six years ago. The launch was set for February 22, 2019. “When launch day finally arrived, I felt like I was getting ready for my wedding all over again. After eight and a half years of preparation, the Falcon-9 spacecraft stood on the launchpad, its engines ready to go. I had a hard time believing that our moment had finally arrived, and we were actually going into space.” The launch was successful, but not perfect, and if anyone was hoping that Beresheet’s journey through space would be smooth sailing, they were disappointed. Early on, while restoring communication with the lander after it was released, the team discovered

a problem with a critical component called the star trackers, special cameras designed to track stars to determine Beresheet’s orientation in relation to the Earth and the moon. But the resourceful SpaceIL team overcame the mishaps and obstacles, starting with reprogramming the star trackers, through difficulties maneuvering, and ending with spontaneous reboots of the computer system and communication issues. The maneuvering challenges, in particular, caused a great deal of apprehension as the team prepared for the most complex maneuver of all, the ‘lunar insertion,’ where Beresheet had to slow itself down relative to the moon, so that it could be captured by the moon’s gravity and enter orbit around it. Any mishaps during this maneuver would have resulted in the loss of the lander to the solar system. “Fortunately, the maneuver was executed flawlessly, and when Alex, the control room manager, announced that we had been ‘captured’ by the moon, I felt myself floating at least a meter above the ground. We did it! We reached the moon! We were overcome with happiness. We made history.” The landing process began a week later, as planned. But, when the IMU2 accelerometer failed, the attempt to

reboot it caused the flight computers to reboot and the engines to shut down as well. “Thanks to the communication provided by NASA, at least we got a magical selfie just before landing,” Damri said. Beresheet then flew directly at the moon and crashed to the ground at a speed of nearly a kilometer per second. “Although we hoped for a soft landing and got a hard landing instead, the reactions we received illustrated that the mission actually achieved its goals,” Damri recalls. His former professors in the Department of Communication Systems Engineering were proud. “Together with the entire State of Israel, we followed Beresheet’s journey with amazement and hope, and were reminded that the road is just as important as the goal. SpaceIL, under the leadership of Kfir and his partners, with its emphasis on education and technology, is an inspiration to us all. We hope that their success continues with Beresheet-2,” said Prof. Chen Avin. Israel is only the seventh country in the world to land on the moon and SpaceIL is the first non-governmental organization to succeed in doing so. When Kfir Damri and his colleagues approach the moon yet again with Beresheet-2, the whole country will hold its breath again.

Unveiling of a model of Beresheet-1 at the residence of Israel’s President, 2015. L-R: Kfir Damri, Jonathan Weintraub, President Reuven Rivlin, Science Minister Ofir Akunis, Eran Privman, and Yariv Bash. Photo: Alon Hadar

8 | English Edition | November 2023

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