The Israeli-built Beresheet lander successfully started orbiting the moon today, marking a crucial step toward next week’s scheduled lunar touchdown.
Today’s maneuver changed the orbit for Beresheet (Hebrew for “In the Beginning”) from a highly elliptical Earth orbit to a highly elliptical lunar orbit. As a result, Israel became the seventh space effort to send a probe circling the moon, and the first such effort backed by private funding. (For what it’s worth, the other space programs include NASA, Russia, China, India, Japan and the European Space Agency.)
Seattle-based Spaceflight and SpaceX played supporting roles in arranging Beresheet’s pre-launch logistics and its delivery to orbit. But the project’s main drivers are SpaceIL, a privately funded engineering team that competed in the Google Lunar X Prize; and state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries.