Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL has officially decided to build a second lunar lander after its first lunar lander crashed into the surface of the Moon last week. Morris Kahn, the Israeli entrepreneur who backed much of SpaceIL’s first mission, announced the decision on Twitter this weekend. However, the nonprofit has not provided many details about when and how the second mission will take place.
“In the light of all the support that I’ve got, from all over the world, and the wonderful messages of support and encouragement and excitement, I’ve decided we’re going to actually establish Beresheet Shtayim,” Kahn said in a video posted on Saturday, April 13th. “Beresheet,” which means “Genesis” in Hebrew, was the name of the first lander, and “shtayim” means “two.” “We’re going to actually... build a new chalalit — a new spacecraft. We’re going to put it on the Moon, and we’re going to complete the mission.”
SpaceIL’s original Beresheet lander got incredibly close to landing on the lunar surface on Thursday, April 11th, but it ultimately failed just moments before touchdown. The lander, which was in orbit around the Moon, ignited its onboard engine to slow itself down and descend to the lunar surface. As its engine burned, some kind of technical glitch occurred, prompting the vehicle’s engine to shut off. The lander restarted the engine fairly quickly, but it was too late for a successful landing. Beresheet came in too fast, and it’s assumed that the vehicle slammed into the lunar surface.
The exact cause of the glitch is still unknown, and SpaceIL says it’s working to figure out the problem. “Right now we don’t quite know what the exact problem was,” Ben Nathaniel, who is on the SpaceIL team, wrote during a Reddit AMA. “We are still investigating what exactly happened.”
About last night: we didn't complete a soft landing but got to the Moon. This is an incredible achievement—only 7 nations have ever entered its orbit. #Beresheet was the 1st private spacecraft to make this journey, which will forever change space travel.#IsraelToTheMoon #spaceil pic.twitter.com/3GiFFr55mq— Israel To The Moon (@TeamSpaceIL) April 12, 2019
If Beresheet had landed, it would have been a major historical moment for both Israel and the space industry. Israel would have become the fourth country to land a vehicle intact on the lunar surface, following the United States, Russia, and China. The landing would also have marked the first time a vehicle made with mostly private funding had touched down on the lunar surface. Most of the funding for Beresheet’s mission came from private investors, whereas all other lunar landers have been created and overseen by governments of superpowers.
Still, the SpaceIL team came quite far and broke a few records along the way. Beresheet became the first privately funded vehicle to enter lunar orbit, and Israel is now the seventh country to put an object around the Moon. “Well, we didn’t make it, but we definitely tried,” Kahn said in the control room after the failed landing last week. “And I think that the achievement of getting to where we got is really tremendous. I think we can be proud.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, was also in attendance for the landing and hinted that SpaceIL would keep going. “If at first you don’t succeed, you try again,” he said. Now it’s clear that SpaceIL will try again, but the team won’t say how long it will take or what we can expect from Beresheet 2.0. The original Beresheet mission began in 2011 when SpaceIL formed to compete in the now-dead Google Lunar X Prize competition, a contest to send the first private lander to the Moon’s surface. It’s unclear if SpaceIL will need the same amount of time to create a second lander.
However, Kahn said that the team had a meeting this weekend to start planning the new mission, so that might mean more details will be released soon. “Thank you, and good luck to all of us,” he said in the video announcement.