A private Israeli Moon mission

Mission Lead
Launch Date
21 Feb 2019
Lunar Surface
Failed Landing

Beresheet (Hebrew: בראשית), which means "in the beginning," was a private mission to the Moon by Israeli non-profit SpaceIL. Built to win the now-defunct $20 million Google Lunar XPrize, Beresheet was meant to inspire more Israelis to pursue STEM careers.

In addition to providing high-resolution imagery from the surface, Beresheet would have measured the magnetic field at its landing site in Mare Serenitatis, which has magnetic anomalies detected by Kaguya, Lunar Prospector, and the Luna 21 mission. Understanding the Moon's magnetism teaches us about its history. While Earth has a global magnetic field caused by the continued churning of liquid metal near the core, the Moon does not. But 3.6 billion years ago, the Moon had a magnetic field just as strong as Earth's.

When new-forming rocks solidify from their melted states, they lock in traces of the ambient magnetic field at the time. By looking at the ages of different regions and the strength of the magnetic field embedded in rocks, scientists can piece together the Moon’s history.

Beresheet successfully reached the Moon, but crash-landed on 11 April 2019. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the impact site, a grazing blow at 32.5956°N, 19.3496°E.

Beresheet images the Moon from 22 kilometers
Beresheet images the Moon from 22 kilometers The Beresheet lander returned this photo of the Moon from an altitude of 22 kilometers before landing failure on 11 April 2019. SpaceIL


Landing site

Beresheet targeted he northern part of Mare Serenitatis. The landing site roughly formed a triangle with previous lunar landers, with Beresheet at the top, Apollo 15's landing site in Mare Imbrium to the southwest, and the Soviet Union's Luna 21 lander and Lunokhod 2 rover to the southeast.

Mare Serenitatis varies in brightness from a light-toned center to a darker outer edge. Initial lunar observations and crater mapping led scientists to believe the outer ring was younger, but on-the-ground observations by Apollo 17 showed the story was more complicated, with the ring varying in age.

Orbital measurements of the Moon's magnetic field from Kaguya and Lunar Prospector showed magnetic fluctuations in the northern part of Mare Serenitatis, which guided selection of a regionally smooth landing site there. By studying the magnetic field of rocks in this area directly, scientists will be able to further piece together the story of the Moon's history.

Beresheet Landing Site (Global Map)
Beresheet Landing Site (Global Map) Beresheet attempted to land in Mare Serenitatis, the "Sea of Serenity," shown as the larger circle. The approximate landing site is in the inner circle. NASA / Goddard / Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter / Jason Davis / The Planetary Society
Beresheet Landing Site (Detail)
Beresheet Landing Site (Detail) A topographic map of Beresheet's attempted landing site in Mare Serenitatis, created with data from LRO and Kayuga. The area is 140 kilometers wide, and the topography is exaggerated by a scale of 40:1. The crater in the lower-right is Posidonius E. The Weizmann Institute of Science
Beresheet landing site animation
Beresheet landing site animation A topographic map of Beresheet's attempted landing site in Mare Serenitatis, created with data from LRO and Kayuga. The area is 140 kilometers wide, and the topography is exaggerated by a scale of 40:1. The Weizmann Institute of Science

Spacecraft Overview

Beresheet Beresheet in mid-2018. SpaceIL
  • Mass: 160 kilograms without fuel, 585 kilograms with fuel
  • Dimensions: 1.5 meters tall, 2.3 meters across deployable landing legs (1.5 meters across legs when stowed on launch vehicle)
  • Total program cost: $100 million (including launch)
  • Launch vehicle: SpaceX Falcon 9

Spacecraft instruments and tools

Imaging system: Beresheet's camera system consisted of six color (RGB), 8-megapixel, Imperx Bobcat B3320C cameras with Ruda optics. They had 60-by-80-degree field of views and resolutions of 2488 by 3312 pixels. Five were positioned along the circumference of the spacecraft’s circular deck to create a full panorama after landing, and one “selfie” camera with a shorter focal length looked inward toward a plaque with the Israeli flag on the deck. Sources: SpaceIL news brief, communications with SpaceIL engineers

Magnetometer: Used to measure the Moon's magnetic field during descent and after landing. Mission Scientist: Oded Aharonson. Weizmann Institute of Science feature | Aharonson et. al (2019)

Retroreflector: A NASA Goddard Space Flight Center-provided array of mirrors to reflect laser signals from spacecraft in lunar orbit. NASA hopes a network of similar reflectors could be used to build a navigation network for orbiting spacecraft. NASA news release | Hardware image

External resources