Israel’s Moon Lander Crashed, and That’s OK

Some bittersweet news today as we get word that Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft unfortunately crashed shortly before touchdown on the Moon. According to telemetry received from the spacecraft right up until the final moments, the main engine failed to start during a critical braking burn which would have slowed the craft to the intended landing velocity. Despite attempts to restart the engine before impact with the surface, the craft hit the Moon too hard and is presumably destroyed. It’s likely that high resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will eventually be able to give us a better idea of the craft’s condition on the surface, but at this point the mission is now officially concluded.

The Beresheet Lander

It’s easy to see this as a failure. Originally conceived as an entry into the Google Lunar X Prize, the intended goal for the $100 million mission was to become the first privately funded spacecraft to not only touch down on the lunar surface, but navigate laterally through a series of powered “hops”. While the mission certainly fell short of those lofty goals, it’s important to remember that Beresheet did land on the Moon.

It didn’t make the intended soft landing, a feat accomplished thus far only by the United States, Russia, and China; but the fact of the matter is that a spacecraft from Israel is now resting on the lunar surface. Even though Beresheet didn’t survive the attempt, history must recognize Israel as the fourth country to put a lander on the surface of our nearest celestial neighbor.

It’s also very likely this won’t be the last time Israel reaches for the Moon. During the live broadcast of the mission, after it was clear Beresheet had been lost, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed his country would try again within the next two years. The lessons learned today will undoubtedly help refine their next mission, and with no competition from other nations in the foreseeable future, there’s still an excellent chance Israel will be able to secure their place in history as the fourth country to make a successful soft landing.

Beresheet’s view during descent

Of course you’ve got to get to the Moon before you can land on it, and in this respect, Beresheet was an unmitigated success. We previously covered the complex maneuvers required to put the craft into lunar orbit after riding to space as a secondary payload on the Falcon 9 rocket; a technique which we’ll likely see more of thanks to the NASA’s recent commitment to return to the Moon. Even if Beresheet never attempted to land on the surface, the fact that it was able to enter into a stable lunar orbit and deliver dramatic up-close images of the Moon’s surface will be a well deserved point of pride for Israel.

If there’s one thing to take away from the loss of Beresheet, it’s that travel among the stars is exceptionally difficult. Today we’re reminded that even the slightest miscalculation can quickly escalate into tragedy when we leave the relative safety of Earth’s atmosphere. In an era when a mega-rocket launching a sport’s car live on YouTube seems oddly common place, it can be easy to forget that humanity’s long path to space featured as many heartbreaking defeats as it does triumphant successes.

This won’t be the last time that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment will be lost while pushing the absolute edge of the envelope, and that’s nothing to be upset over. Humans have an insatiable need to see what’s over the horizon and that means we must take on a certain level of risk. The alternative is stagnation, and in the long run that will cost us a lot more than a few crashed probes.

108 thoughts on “Israel’s Moon Lander Crashed, and That’s OK

      1. Oh, I see. I visited that page (“first link in the article”, as usual), but it seems the YT embed didn’t load for me or something, now I see it.

        I see the WP comments are just broken, need to re-enter my name/email all the time. #plzfix

          1. The observed changes – there’s no longer an option to “log in with WordPress”, and the session I had before (which allowed me to comment without entering data all over again) evidently got interrupted. Not just on this post, all the posts on HaD blog. Other WP blogs don’t have this problem (just checked). Oh, also, the usual “WP blog” bar on the top disappeared, used to be there as far as I remember it, would show me notifications and stuff. Maybe HaD deleted one too many lines of Javascript when de-WP-ifying the .com site?

        1. We updated our WP backend a few days ago. There appear to be some growing pains…

          Send us an e-mail with a description of what you’re doing, what you expect it to do, and what it actually does? (editor@hackaday.com) We’ll forward it on to the web folks.

  1. “Israel’s Beresheet spacecraft unfortunately crashed shortly before touchdown on the Moon.”

    Actually, the spacecraft crashed at the moment of touchdown. It’s the delta-v at the moment of touchdown that distinguishes a “landing” from a “crash landing.”

    1. Akshually that’s not what delta-v means either. Saying it still had delta-v upon landing basically means it still has propellant in its tanks, which while probably true in this case it’s not exactly the same as saying the two bodies’ velocity was too high relative to each other. Delta-v refers to the potential to change one’s velocity, not to an object’s current velocity.

        1. You can’t have any delta V if you can’t have any means to change your velocity.

          dV is a different thing that means the potential to change velocity relative to another body due to any acceleration independent of your own propulsion. Eg. your change in velocity due to gravity – free fall.

        2. No, he does understand it, it just doesn’t mean what it usually means and what you think it means in this context. Delta V in the context of spacecraft means “how much can I change my velocity” not “what is my velocity relative to object X”.

      1. You are using the Kerbal shorthand of Delta-V, which actually means potential Delta-V.

        Delta = change, V = velocity. The change in velocity of a fast impact is.. significant. And imparted by the moon, not the engines.

        1. dV/dt was even higher :-)

          Bad luck. Good news is that the mission cost was, according to reports, only $100k. So they can try again. After the failure analysis, of course.

          Good luck next time, guys.

    2. The delta-V will be the same whether it is crash landing or soft landing. The difference is whether the delta-V/delta-T is large or small. Large means very high forces, resulting in materials deformation beyond specified limits…

  2. So it failed in the last few seconds of an otherwise successful mission, so does that mean it was 99% successful? Does a Beresheet in the woods! If the Wright brothers had crashed at the end of their first flight they still would have flown, this is a good start and shows the way that many nations can get into serious space without spending multi-billions. All in all this mission gets an A- (The crash sorta took the luster off it.)

    1. It means the spacex rocket it contracted out a ride on did its job. A cinder block would have performed similarly. Other than that, critical mission failure. I’m glad to see excitement for space exploration, but I’m afraid that if we put our eggs in the private industry basket then we’re going to see a lot of this plus the usual rote launches of commercial satellites into Earth orbit.

      It takes nation-scale coordination to do real pioneering work in deep space–even half a century after the moon became old news, it’s still too tough a problem for the private sector. This isn’t because private industry is incompetent, it’s just because they’re constrained by the need to make a short-term profit and pay back investors too quickly for the scale of such challenges. It works (sometimes) for things we’ve already done, and even vastly improves those things, but it will never forge a new path.

      1. You have absolutely zero knowledge on the subject, and it shows.

        The F9 didn’t send Beresheet to the moon, it dropped it off on the way to GTO. It took over a month of orbital maneuvers to get it to the moon, where it still had to brake into stable orbit.

          1. Sorry to disappoint you but that probably wan’t a sly quip. In Hebrew the last vowel is short (e.g. “hit”, not “heat”). It’s probably written in English for widr consumption as “sheet” in order to avoid internet filters etc. (the ones that blocked the town of Scunthorpe from being searchable).

      2. Not at all. The cinder block would have stayed in GTO… This thing maneuvered to the moon and almost made a successful soft landing. A failure, yes, but a very small one.

      3. Stolen from Wikipedia: “The Ranger spacecraft were designed to take images of the lunar surface, transmitting those images to Earth until the spacecraft were destroyed upon impact. A series of mishaps, however, led to the failure of the first six flights. At one point, the program was called “shoot and hope”. Congress launched an investigation into “problems of management” at NASA Headquarters and Jet Propulsion Laboratory.[2] After two reorganizations of the agencies,[citation needed] Ranger 7 successfully returned images in July 1964, followed by two more successful missions”

        And of the seven Surveyor missions, five were successful.

        Turns out space is hard.

        1. Some argue Columbus knew it was there due to previous legends from the viking era – nobody else believed him, so he faked the maps he showed to the king to sell it as a route to Asia to get funding. Others had already calculated the real circumference of the earth, and they knew how far away China was to the east, so they knew perfectly well that Columbus couldn’t possibly make it all the way around.

      1. Crashing a satellite into the surface doesn’t count, orbital velocity would have turned it to paste on impact.

        This was a controlled descent, up until the very end, anyway. Until there is some LRO images, we don’t even know for sure how badly it was damaged.

        There’s a difference between missing your controlled landing by a 20 m/s, and just crashing into the surface at full speed.

  3. Well, it’s a lot harder to soft land on a celestial body. Even the biggest countries have had similar failures.

    While this crash has to be considered a failure, it was ambitious to have expected the first try to work. No doubt future missions will build on this one.

  4. “…lost while pushing the absolute edge of the envelope…”
    Yeah, the edge of the envelope, in 1969. 50 years later isn’t exactly the edge of the envelope anymore.

      1. It’s kind of hard to call this pushing the edge when humans walked on the moon 50 years ago and there has been successful landings on Mars, not to mention we will likely have humans on mars in the next decade or so. That’s what is really pushing the envelope. I will say the jumping rover is interesting though if for nothing other than comedic value that someone thought, moon, low gravity, lets make it jump.

  5. This is a total failure, sorry.
    The USSR tried and failed again and again to land on Mars.
    Nobody gave the USSR credit for those failures.
    And none should be given here.
    Are you suggesting that Israel is “special?”

    1. Total failure?

      1. First private mission to the moon.
      2. First mission to get there indirectly via complex manoeuvres.

      So two things no other body has achieved. Not a total failure.

      1. I just went outside and jumped. Came back down and soft landed. I claim to be the first private mission to the moon with human powered flight and I declare it a partial success. Nobody died, I saw airtime, and I technically got slightly closer to the moon. Can we call that an achievement? Are people awarding Israel the first place losers award or is that just for kids sports still? I would say they did a great job, but they didn’t achieve their goal. Nothing wrong with that either, but they can’t walk away from this saying they were winners. Sorry. A lot of hard earned cash was burned up just to leave another crater on the moon, and that sucks but it is what it is.

        1. “I just went outside and jumped. Came back down and soft landed. ”
          Were you the first person or organisation to have ever accomplished that feat?
          Did you do it better than any private individual or company before, in the whole of human history?

          No-one is saying this mission was a complete success, obviously. You obviously don’t know much about the perils of exploration (or software development or product design or, or) if you think such a complex process can be 100% perfect on first try.

      2. This is one thing i dont get. In reference to your first point how can we claim that this is privately funded yet an Israeli mission? It seems disingenuous to not give attribution to the actual funders, unless Israel did fun the mission in which case how can it be privately funded.

        Looking at the first link in the article, it becomes clear that SpaceIL is a private non profit entity that exists in Isreal so it bothers me that people consider this an endeavor of the nation itself rather than the work of the three founders: Yariv Bash, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub. Credit should really be given to these fine people rather than the government. Can an editor please add their names to the article?

        1. If you go to the supermarket and buy Cheddar Cheese, would you assume that it is made by the government of the village of Cheddar in Somerset rather than by a farmer who happens to have his farm is that delightful part of the country? Of course not, so why can’t an Israeli (or American or British) space probe not be labelled with the origin of its creation?

          1. Oh i have no problem with it being labeled as being a space craft from Israel (as that is in fact what it is), but i believe that there should also be noted that credit is due to the three founders of this private endeavor. As per your analogy, when you go to the market to buy cheddar cheese it is usually labeled with the country of origin as well as the specific farm and/or manufacturer or would you label all British cheddar cheese the same?

            All I am saying is that we should give appropriate credit to the private citizens who started and followed through on their plan.

        2. So you think just three people are responsible for this mission? If the post listed every individual who worked on making this possible, the list would be longer than the post itself.

          Beyond that, your point doesn’t make any sense. It’s an Israeli company made up of Israeli workers. The Prime Minister of the country was there personally to watch it happen. It’s an accomplishment for the Israeli people.

        3. “how can we claim that this is privately funded yet an Israeli mission?”
          Private funded launches/satellites still need a national sponsor.
          Recently an American satellite hitched a ride on an Indian rocket, the satellite owners were fined for bypassing US approval.

          Zefram Cochrane will need a nation to sign off on his launch of the Phoenix in April 5, 2063, or he will be fined, and his spacecraft confiscated.
          Unless the rules change before then, of course.

  6. It turned into beresheet. Total success, then.

    Jokes aside, I hope that this is a step in the right direction, by demonstrating lower costs for future lunar missions.

  7. More stupid money wasted on a useless venture. When are all these supposedly smart scientists / people with money going to realize that money would be far better spent here fixing up this planet and make it more sustainable than to piss it away on other places. Lets fix home first people. Its commonsense 101 here people.

    1. You are forgetting that this is a private venture – no government money need have been spent on it. Just as you are free to do what you want with the money in your pocket, so are the investors in this venture.

    2. “If we paid too much attention to that lot, we’d still be conserving flint for our grandchildren to make axes. I’ve got other things to do.”
      -James P Hogan, Entoverse 1991

    1. I don’t see why [Ostracus] would hack the Beresheet.
      I mean he is an experienced tech, but I have not seen any malicious posts by him on HaD.
      Do you have any information to support your claim?
      B^)

  8. “According to telemetry received from the spacecraft right up until the final moments, the main engine failed to start during a critical braking burn”

    Other reports suggest a gyroscope failed and because of a loss of communications the engine was left cold too long and could not be restarted in time.

      1. It missed one of the early orbit raising maneuvers after separation from the Falcon 9, but the nice thing about that part the mission was that they were in a stable orbit and could just wait for the next close pass to Earth to try again. Which is what they did, and obviously they ultimately made it to the Moon.

        But this time they were past the point of no return; the failure happened during arguably the most critical point of the mission, and there was no “do-over” like last time.

        They’ll be going over every bit of data they got back from Beresheet for some time, and I have no doubt they’re going to be taking a very close look at both engine failures to try and find a parallel.

  9. Who cares? I know I don’t.
    How about we try to replicate what we did 40-50 years ago by actually landing people on the moon? That’d be somewhat exciting.

    Landing people on Mars, very exciting.

    Attempting to land a probe on the moon and failing at it…..meh.

    1. >How about we try to replicate what we did 40-50 years ago by actually landing people on the moon
      That would also likely replicate the cost of that programme.

      >Landing people on Mars, very exciting
      And very expensive.
      People fail to realize just how expensive will a manned Mars mission be. You can’t put 3 people in a craft the size of the Lunar Lander, send them to Mars and expect them to be fine and dandy. The craft that will house the crew for the 6 month trip (mind you that’s only one transfer maneuver, the mission would likely take years) will probably have to be big. Really big. Think ISS big. Also ISS heavy. Putting all that hardware into LEO AND sending off to Mars transfer orbit will be a truly monumental feat, with a monumental budget…

      1. You’d think with today’s tech, going to the moon would be cheaper. Also if exploring space is so expensive you’d think that those that do it, would try very hard to do it in a meaningful way i.e. instead of sending a probe to the moon for the umpteenth time, maybe send one to some other planet, star or area of space that has yet to be explored.

          1. Not really. But I have built many blinky LED projects as did others. When I make a blinky LED project today, I really don’t feel the need to brag about it, especially when the LED blows up after a while.

            The whole sending a probe to the moon thing is very much like the blinky LED project. Not only have probes been sent to the moon, freakin human beings have been sent there. We also have at least 4 satellites orbiting the moon. The moon is old news, it does not reinforce humanity’s dream of exploring space e.t.c. It only sends a signal to other countries that Israel is capable of weaponizing space.

          2. I’m sure next time an interplanetary mission needs a blinky LED specialist they will be sure to drop you a line!
            That’s cheered me up no end :-)

  10. Is this like kids sports now a days where everybody gets a participation medal? I know they spent enough money to feed a small nation for a month or better and it was a failure but, good job. Come on if we want to call a failure a success look at India’s mission that found frozen water after crash landing that was a mission much more fitting.

    1. I don’t think anyone’s calling it a success. It was a failure, but only by _that_ much, which is kinda cool. You learn a lot from failure.

      Even Benjamin Netanyahu said “If at first you don’t succeed…”

      They got a lot closer than I have to landing on the moon, so it’s hard for me to be too critical. Of course, I still have the $100 million burning a hole in my pocket, so that’s some consolation.

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