Beresheet, Israel’s lunar lander, crashed on the moon’s surface on April 11. Even though the mission was not a complete success, NASA researchers believe that the Lunar Retroreflector Array (LRA), a NASA piggyback experiment, might have survived the incident.
The LRA is a technology demonstration that has eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners placed into a dome-shaped aluminum frame, Space.com reported. These odd mirrors were designed to be markers for other spacecraft, which can use them to position themselves for precise landing operations. Thankfully, the LRA is radiation-hardened and tough, so it might still be “alive” after Beresheet’s failed lunar touchdown.
“Yes, we believe the laser reflector array would have survived the crash, although it may have separated from the main spacecraft body,” David Smith of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and principal investigator of the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft, told Inside Outer Space.
He added, “Of course, we do not know the orientation of the array. It could be upside down, but it has a 120-degree angle of reception, and we only need one of the 0.5-inch cubes for detection. But, it has certainly not made it any easier.”
According to Smith, the LOLA team will start to plan LRA-hunting observations soon and try to find out what happened to the NASA experiment after the Beresheet crash. Detection efforts might be slightly challenging though: LOLA generates laser beams that hit the lunar surface and bounce back to the instrument, and for each beam that returns to the instrument, LOLA is able to measure its range, also known as its time of flight. If LOLA can bounce some light off the LRA reflector, NASA researchers should be able to learn more about the LRA’s state.
— Israel To The Moon (@TeamSpaceIL) April 13, 2019
Despite a failed touchdown attempt, Israel will try to go to the moon again with “Beresheet 2.0,” a new spacecraft that will be better prepared for technical glitches. If this second mission goes smoothly, Isreal will be the fourth nation to successfully land on the moon’s surface.
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