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Israeli Spacecraft Enters Lunar Orbit Ahead Of Historic Landing

SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft snaps a photo of Earth on its way to the moon. Photo: SpaceIL
SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft snaps a photo of Earth on its way to the moon. Photo: SpaceIL

An Israeli spacecraft is one step closer to landing on the moon after launching from the Space Coast earlier this year.

Space IL, the team operating the mission, confirmed Thursday the spacecraft entered a lunar orbit. A critical maneuver places the spacecraft in an elliptical orbit around the moon. The lowest point of the orbit puts the spacecraft around 3,100 miles from the lunar surface.

The spacecraft, named Beresheet, will continue to fire its engines and circularize the orbit and bring it closer to the surface. The team is targeting April 11 for lunar touchdown.

"We still have a long way until the lunar landing, but I‘m convinced our team will complete the mission to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon," said SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby.

It's a historic mission. If successful, it will be the first privately-funded spacecraft to land on the moon. Only three other countries have successfully landed on the lunar surface -- the U.S., former Soviet Union and China.

The mission faced two challenges since launching from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket back in February. Beresheet ran into an early challenge when its star-tracker, which is used for navigation, was affected by sunlight more than expected. The team also ran into an issue with the spacecraft's on-board computer system.

Beresheet is carrying a digital time capsule and scientific instrumentation. Manages expect the spacecraft will only last a few days on the surface before shutting down.

Brendan Byrne is WMFE's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the WMFE newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing WMFE's internship program.

Byrne also hosts WMFE's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration.
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