SpaceIL Scraps its Plans to go Back to the Moon. Instead, it’s Got a New Secret “Significant Objective” for Beresheet 2

Mystery. Secrecy. A Need-To-Know Basis. These are the hallmarks of science. Wait a minute: no they’re not. So what’s with all the mysterious secret objective talk from SpaceIL about Beresheet2?

The Beresheet moon lander, you’ll recall, was a privately-funded spacecraft that was spawned by the Google Lunar XPRIZE. It was one of the finalists for that prize, but the contest expired before any of the entries could reach the finish line. However, with support from the Israeli Aerospace Industries and other backers, Beresheet was eventually completed.

It was launched to the Moon on February 22nd 2019, onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9. All was going well for the little lander, but sadly there was an engine failure and it crashed into the Moon and was destroyed.

Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander took a selfie and an Earthie on its way to the Moon. Image Credit: Israel Space Agency, SpaceIL.

Investigation revealed that an inadvertent manual command was given to the spacecraft which started a chain reaction of events, shutting down the main engine and preventing it from being restarted, and ultimately causing the spacecraft’s demise.

SpaceIL, the non-profit company behind the mission, was quick to announce Beresheet’s successor, Beresheet 2, which would also head to the Moon. It made sense at the time, but now, according to SpaceIL’s Twitter feed, that’s not happening.

Instead, the Moon is now small potatoes, and Beresheet will have a much more challenging objective. Though they haven’t told us what it is yet.

What the wording “Beresheet’s journey to the Moon was already received as a successful, record-breaking journey,” means is not exactly clear, since in most people’s minds a crash-landing isn’t really a success. But in any case, it looks like SpaceIL means business and will send a spacecraft somewhere else.

Their homepage still shows a picture of the Moon with the words, “Landing the second Israeli Spacecraft on the Moon,” so this must be a brand new development for SpaceIL.

If you don’t follow SpaceIL’s Twitter feed, you’d think Beresheet 2 was still going to the Moon. Image Credit: SpaceIL

Keeping people guessing is one way to generate excitement and attention for your endeavours. And in a way, the Moon is old news. The Japanese company ispace is planning to send two missions to the Moon to map out and explore water resources there. They plan both an orbiter and a lander, complete with a tiny ride-along rover. ispace actually has a contract with the ESA as part of the ESA’s Commercial In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU) Demonstration Mission.

A screenshot from ispace’s website. The private Japanese company wants to be part of Moon colonization and resource utilization. Image Credit: ispace

Then there’s the American company Astrobotic and their Peregrine lander. This lightweight lander, no taller than a person, can carry a 90kg payload to the lunar surface. The company also has plans for another lander called the Griffin lander. Griffin is larger and is designed to deliver a rover to the surface of the Moon.

The Peregrine lander from Astrobotic. <Click to enlarge>
Astrobotic’s other lander, the Griffin. <Click to enlarge>

Astrobotic is one of the companies that NASA has contracted. They’ve recently given Astrobotic $79.5 million to deliver 14 payloads to the Moon.

Come to think of it, the Moon is about to become a crowded, work-a-day destination for spacecraft. In the near future, robotic Moon landings may not even make the front page. Maybe SpaceIL is right.

Maybe it is time to “seek out another, significant objective for Beresheet 2.0,” as they say.

But what could it be?

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Evan Gough

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