Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL successfully inserted its spacecraft, Beresheet, into the moon’s orbit yesterday—and they have the photos to prove it.
Late night the spacecraft’s moon-capture maneuver caught these stunning photos of the far side of the moon. One photo is a close up of the surface, taken at a height of 470 km. The other photo captures part of the far side of the moon with Earth in the background.
The far side of the moon is rarely seen, since the moon is tidally locked, but the “dark” side of the moon has been captured few times before. In 1959, the Luna 3 was the first spacecraft to send images of the moon’s far-side. More recently in early February, a Chinese satellite also captured photos of the far side of the moon and Earth together.
Repping the Israeli flag, the small spacecraft has made Israel the seventh nation to orbit the moon. On February 21, the team launched it into Earth’s orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket, and for weeks its orbit around Earth expanded until it reached an elliptical lunar orbit. As it passed Earth for the last time, it also caught a rare photo of Earth at about 16,000 km away of clouds swirling above the Arab Peninsula and Southeast Africa.
Beresheet is now in position to become the first Israeli spacecraft, and the first privately-funded mission, to land on the moon. Their moon-landing project began with Google’s Lunar XPrize. Even though the competition ended in 2018 with no winners, Google still promises SpaceIL a $1 million Moonshot Award if they can stick the landing.
“After six weeks in space, we have succeeded in overcoming another critical stage by entering the moon’s gravity,” said SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby in a statement. “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, making us all proud.”
Stay tuned for April 11, when the company will attempt their ultimate goal of soft landing on the moon. Whether or not it’s successful, the views were definitely worth it.