"Genesis Spacecraft" by Oshratsl / CC BY-SA 4.0

A Bumpy Ride to the Moon: Israeli Spacecraft Hits Technical Snag

Feb 26, 2019

By Asaf Ronel

Genesis (“Beresheet” in Hebrew), Israel’s first spacecraft on its way to land on the moon, is having some complications. After the launch on Friday morning, engineers from the SpaceIL organization and Israel Aerospace Industries discovered that sensors on the craft needed for navigation are overly sensitive to sunlight. They discovered another problem with the robotic spacecraft on Monday which could delay its reaching the moon.

Around midnight between Monday and Tuesday, Genesis was scheduled to carry out another maneuver to increase the radius of its orbit around Earth. The maneuver was supposed to be carried out automatically while the spacecraft was in a region of the sky where it wouldn’t have contact with its controllers on the ground. But while the preparations for the maneuver were underway, the spacecraft’s computer performed an unplanned reboot on its own. The restart cancelled the maneuver, and it continued in its original orbit. The engineers responsible for Genesis’ operations are analyzing the data and trying to understand what caused the reboot, and what its implications may be.

Every time Genesis completes an orbit it executes another maneuver, designed to move it further away from earth, by firing its engines for three minutes. This is how it will eventually reach the moon, with orbits at successively increasing distances from Earth in a trajectory resembling an elliptical spiral. The advantage of this method, which relies on the Earth’s gravitational pull, is that it saves fuel. Missing a maneuver means postponing Genesis’ moon landing.

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