Israel's Beresheet spacecraft gears up for its historic moon landing 12 April

The $100 million-washing machine-sized spacecraft moved from Earth's orbit to the Moon's on 9 April.

Israel's first mission to the moon, the Beresheet spacecraft, is expected to make its much-awaited touchdown on the Moon Thursday night. If all goes to plan, the spacecraft will make its soft landing on a massive lava plain on the Moon's near side, known as the Sea of Serenity, or Mare Seranitatis, between 3 pm to 4 pm ET on Thursday (12.30 am to 1.30am IST on Friday).

The team behind the Beresheet mission is an Israel space startup, SpaceIL in a collaboration with Israel Aerospace Industries, which built the four-legged lander that's hours from making history as the first privately-funded mission to ever land on the moon.

The $100-million-spacecraft, roughly the size of a washing machine, fired its engines for a little over a minute on Tuesday to move from Earth's orbit to the Moon's.

Israels Beresheet spacecraft gears up for its historic moon landing 12 April

The spacecraft being offloaded from a plane at the Orlando Airport before being driven to Cape Canaveral and into the SpaceX Falcon 9 before its launch on 23 February, 2019. Image credit: SpaceIL/Eliran Avital

Beresheet's main science mission involves an instrument onboard called a magnetometer, to measure the magnetic field of rocks on the lunar surface. The data from the instrument could help scientists understand when and how the moon acquired its magnetic field, Oded Aharonson, one of the lead scientists on the SpaceIL team said in a statement.

The lander is also carrying a "retroreflector" made by NASA along to test a laser beam technology that pairs with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The laser will test a method to precisely determine the location of lunar landers like Beresheet in future moon missions. NASA plans to scatter many such retroreflectors in different parts of the Moon in the near future, according to Space.com.

Retroreflector from NASA onboard the Beresheet spacecraft. Image credit: Weizmann Institute of Science

Retroreflector from NASA onboard the Beresheet spacecraft. Image credit: Weizmann Institute of Science

The spacecraft is also equipped with sensors and cameras, which have already beamed back some cool photographs en route to the Moon.

Also check out: Beresheet captures stunning glimpses of the Moon's far side and Earth  

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