Israel's first attempt to make a moon landing came up just short of success, as the Beresheet spacecraft ends its mission with a crash on the moon.
Early Investigation Suggests Technical Issues
Preliminary data points to a technical glitch that caused the vessel's unceremonious crash landing on the lunar surface.
As BBC reports, a technical malfunction in one component of the Beresheet spacecraft caused a chain of events that resulted in the main engine switching off.
With the engine on shutdown, the spacecraft failed to slow down as it descended onto the surface of the moon. At just 492 feet (150 meters) above the surface, Beresheet was still moving at a speed of 300 miles per hour (500 kilometers per hour).
"It appears that a glitch, perhaps with a sensor, may have caused the on-board computer to erroneously shut down the main engine," Robert Westcott, a senior propulsion engineer at Nammo Westcott, told BBC. "By the time they had reset the system and the engine successfully restarted it was too late to slow the lander down for the soft landing."
Westcott adds that their engine looks to have performed nominally.
The team has not yet identified which component malfunctioned, but they did find out that the first technical issue took place just over 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) above the surface of the moon.
More investigations are expected to be conducted to trace the source of the Beresheet's failure to land.
Scientists Still Count The Mission As A Success
The Beresheet spacecraft, a vessel built by SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, has lofty goals: to become the first ever privately funded spacecraft to land on the moon.
If successful, Israel would have been just the fourth country to achieve a soft lunar landing.
While the moon lander did not quite make it to the moon in one piece, the Israeli team behind the attempt is proud of what they were able to accomplish.
As National Geographic notes, the Beresheet is the closest a private entity has come far to landing on the moon's surface. With its entry into orbit around the moon, Israel becomes the seventh country to do so.
"We didn't make it, but we definitely tried, and I think the achievement of getting to where we got is pretty tremendous," Morris Kahn, SpaceIL president and primary funder, said in a livestream video of the moon landing attempt. "I think we can be proud."