Did a bad command cause moon lander’s crash?

Moon view from Beresheet

Team SpaceIL says this was the last picture taken by the Beresheet lunar lander, at a distance of 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the lunar surface. (SpaceIL Photo)

A manually entered command apparently set off a chain reaction of events that led to last week’s crash of an Israeli-built lunar lander during its attempt to touch down on the moon, the mission’s managers said today.

Preliminary results of an investigation into the crash indicate that the manual command was entered into the spacecraft’s computer, which caused the main engine to switch off and stay off during the Beresheet lander’s descent.

The Jerusalem Post reported that problems started with a malfunction in an inertial measurement unit that kept track of the spacecraft’s orientation and motion.

“There was no incident like this since the mission began,” the Post quoted SpaceIL CEO Ido Anteby as saying. “After it occurred, an activation command was sent to [the inertial measurement unit], causing a chain of events in which the main engine stopped and was unable to return to continuous operation.”

All attempts to restart the engine failed. That led to the failure of the nearly $100 million lunar mission, which took its name from the Hebrew words for “In the Beginning.”

Get the full story on GeekWire.

About Alan Boyle

Aerospace and science editor for GeekWire, creator of Cosmic Log, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.
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