Investigators looking into why an Israeli spacecraft crash-landed on the moon this month say they have found a “manual command” entered in the craft’s computer.
Although inquiry is at an early stage, technicians at SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries said: “It appears that a manual command was entered into the spacecraft’s computer. This led to a chain reaction in the spacecraft, during which the main engine switched off, which prevented it from activating further.”
The problem occurred as Beresheet was undertaking a lunar landing manoeuvre during which the engine cut out. It later reactivated but not in time to slow the craft from hurtling into the moon’s surface at 300mph.
They said: “Teams continue to investigate further, in order to understand the full picture of what occurred during the mission. In the coming weeks, final results of the investigation will be released.”
Meanwhile, an eight-sided mirrored instrument from NASA, about the size of a computer mouse, piggy-backed on Beresheet and may have survived the crash. The instrument provides a target for laser tracking measurements from the ground.
Scientists suspect the tiny ball-shaped device may have survived because its eight mirrors are made of quartz cube corners and set into a dome-shaped aluminum frame which is “radiation-hardened and long-lived”.
A lunar observer orbiting the moon is currently looking for both the crash site and the NASA tracking device, but it orbits the site only twice a month, one of which the site will be in darkness.