The Israeli spacecraft Beresheet has crashed on the Moon after a series of technical failures during its final descent, shattering scientists’ hopes of a historic controlled landing on the lunar surface.
The unmanned robotic lander suffered periodic engine and communication failures during the 21 minutes of the landing sequence, the support team said.
Beresheet, which means “in the beginning” in Hebrew, had lost contact with ground control as it was making its final descent to the Moon.
Moments later, the mission was declared a failure.
Scientists, who had been giddy with excitement, were visibly distraught and celebrations at viewing centres across the country were dashed.
“We definitely crashed on surface of Moon,” said the general manager of the space division of Israel Aerospace Industries, Opher Doron.
He said the spacecraft was now in pieces scattered across the planned landing site.
The spacecraft’s engine had turned off shortly before landing.
By the time power was restored, Beresheet was moving too fast to land safely on the Moon’s surface.
Scientists were still trying to work out what had caused the engine to fail.
“One of the inertial measurement units failed. And that caused an unfortunate chain of events we’re not sure about,” Mr Doron said.
“The engine was turned off. The engine was stopped and the spacecraft crashed. That’s all we know.”
Beresheet’s journey to the moon
The spacecraft had travelled through space for seven weeks in a series of expanding orbits around Earth before crossing into the Moon’s gravity last week.
It had hitched a ride on the SpaceX Falcon rocket, which had been launched from Florida in February.
The final manoeuvre on Wednesday brought it into a tight elliptical orbit around the Moon, between 15 kilometres to 17 kilometres from the surface at its closest.
Beresheet was aiming to land at an area known as the Sea of Serenity, or Mare Serenitatis in Latin, which is near where Apollo 17 astronauts landed in 1972, NASA said.
The failure was a disappointing ending to a 6.5-million kilometre voyage, almost unprecedented in length, that was designed to conserve fuel and reduce the price of lunar voyages.
The small robotic spacecraft, built by the non-profit SpaceIL and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, had hoped to match a feat that has only been achieved by the national space agencies of three countries — China, the US and Russia.
‘We will succeed in the end’
The mishap occurred in front of a packed audience that included Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was broadcast live on national television.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try try again,” Mr Netanyahu said.
He vowed to put an Israeli spacecraft on the Moon “intact” in the next two years.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted dozens of youngsters at his official residence for the launch.
The children, some of whom were wearing white spacesuits, appeared confused as the crash unfolded.
“We are full of admiration for the wonderful people who brought the spacecraft to the Moon,” Mr Rivlin said. “True, not as we had hoped, but we will succeed in the end.”
Dozens of kids who are passionate about science and space, from all over the country, have come to Beit HaNasi to see the landing of the spaceship on the moon tonight. Good luck 'Beresheet'! #IsraelToTheMoon pic.twitter.com/ueWy4jxFQO
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) April 11, 2019