Photo Credit: SpaceIL screen grab via YouTube

Israel’s first lunar spacecraft, Beresheet (“Genesis”) successfully completed its first maneuver toward the Moon at 1:29 pm Israel time on Sunday afternoon, according to SpaceIL, and the Israel Space Agency.

Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) announced Sunday in a joint statement:

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“Today at 1:29 p.m. Israel time (6:29 a.m. EST), Beresheet’s first maneuver was completed successfully by SpaceIL and IAI’s engineering team. The planned maneuver took into account the problems that were identified in the star trackers after launch.

“This was the first time Beresheet’s main engine was activated. The 30-second maneuver was made at a distance of 69,400 km from Earth and will increase the spacecrafts’s closest point of approach to Earth to a distance of 600 km.

“Beresheet continues its course according to plan and the next maneuver is scheduled for Monday night.”

Major maneuver #2 comes when the top of the orbit is raised to 270,000 kilometers. The Moon completes its orbit around Earth in about 27 days, according to SpaceIL.

In major maneuver #3, the orbit tops out at 400,000 kilometers – high enough to reach the orbit of the Moon.

As the Moon draws nearer to Beresheet, and begins to pull more strongly on the spacecraft, the Lunar Capture maneuver takes place in order to ensure that Beresheet goes into orbit around the Moon.

The spacecraft is then held in an elliptical orbit by the gravity of the Moon. After a number of orbits, closer and closer, Beresheet receives a series of commands from the control room on Earth and the landing process begins.

“The United States congratulates the Government of Israel and our respective commercial space industries for the historic SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch of SpaceIL’s Lunar Lander named Beresheet,” said a statement issued by the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology.

“The non-profit organization SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, with technical support from the Israel Space Agency, funded and built this lander. The mission required governmental authorization and continuing supervision, consistent with obligations set out in the Outer Space Treaty, to which both Israel and the United States are party.

“The U.S. government, as a responsible space-faring nation and launching state, also commends the U.S. commercial space sector for providing affordable launch services to another closely allied space-faring nation. In fact, the Google X prize was the primary incentive that persuaded SpaceIL to embark on this endeavor.

We look forward to expanding our partnership in space with Israel as the nation takes on greater responsibilities in the international community of space-faring nations (as in its recent assumption of the 2nd Vice Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space).

“Israel is fostering its own innovative commercial space industry to produce a mission that will make Israel one of only four nations (United States, the former Soviet Union, China, and Israel) to reach the surface of the Moon through a controlled landing.

“This mission has fostered a partnership between NASA and the Israel Space Agency and both agencies will share the resulting discoveries with the global scientific community. NASA will contribute to the mission with communications support and observations from its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft and by providing a laser retro-reflector that will fly onboard the Israeli lander.”

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