An Israeli spacecraft, Beresheet Lunar Lander, has crashed on the surface of the moon following suspected technical problems with its main engine. The purpose of the mission was to gather images and carry out experiments.
The engine, known as LEROS 2b, was designed and built by Nammo at the company’s UK site in Buckinghamshire. LEROS 2b was originally designed for satellites and deep space missions.
The Beresheet mission was the first privately funded mission to the moon. So far, only state-supported space agencies from the USA, the former USSR, and China have managed successful soft lunar landings. Israel had hoped to join the list.
The Beresheet craft made a 7-week journey through space, travelling 15 times further than the average distance to the moon of 240,000 miles. The extended route was due to a cost-cutting scheme – the Beresheet Lunar Lander blasted off from Cape Canaveral on 22nd February on a SpaceX Falcon 9, alongside a satellite and another aircraft. Buddying up minimised launch costs, but resulted in a longer route.
The Beresheet orbited the Earth several times before being dragged into lunar orbit on 4th April.
Despite the failed landing, the Beresheet mission has demonstrated the potential for low-cost, commercial lunar exploration. The project costs came to approximately £76m.
Beresheet, and a raft of other commercial projects, came about as a result of the Google Lunar XPrize. Google’s challenge offered $20m for the first privately developed mission to land on the moon. Google Lunar XPrize came to an anticlimactic end last year when no parties could meet the deadline, but the competition did serve to inspire several commercial space projects.
Private sector involvement in space exploration is not new: approximately 75% of global space enterprise is commercial in origin. Several space agencies, including NASA, have also declared their intention to collaborate with commercial projects to conduct experiments and deliver payloads to the lunar surface.
But a number of high-profile entrepreneurs have joined the private sector race to the moon.
“We want a new space race,” Elon Musk told a press conference in Cape Canaveral in 2018, having just launched the Falcon Heavy rocket with his company SpaceX. “Races are exciting.”
Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and a wave of other entrepreneurs also have commercial space projects in development.