Japanese firm ispace examines why its lander crashed on moon

ispace chief technology officer (CTO) Ryo Ujiie (L) speaks next to CEO Takeshi Hakamada during a press conference in Tokyo on April 26, 2023. – Japanese start-up ispace conceded on April 26 its ambitious attempt to become the first company to land on the Moon had ended in failure, but pledged to move ahead with new missions. (Photo by JIJI Press / AFP) / Japan OUT (Photo by STR/JIJI Press/AFP via Getty Images)

Tokyo-based ispace confirmed Wednesday that its HAKUTO-R spacecraft, which was scheduled to make a historic lunar landing on Tuesday, likely crashed into the Moon’s surface. 

That failed landing came roughly three months after the 7-foot-tall lander launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The lander then entered into orbit around the moon on March 21 and began to prepare for a landing on the lunar surface. 

During its descent, ground controllers lost communications with the lander. The team determined it was in a vertical position as it approached the lunar surface, however, no data was ever received that indicated a successful touchdown.

“Based on the data, it has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the moon’s surface,” ispace officials said in a statement issued after the anomaly. 

Engineers are continuing to analyze the spacecraft’s telemetry data to pinpoint what went wrong. While the spacecraft did not meet its overarching objective of landing on the moon, the private company does still consider this mission a partial success.

“Although we do not expect to complete the lunar landing at this time, we believe that we have fully accomplished the significance of this mission, having acquired a great deal of data and experience by being able to execute the landing phase. What is important is to feed this knowledge and learning back to Mission 2 and beyond so that we can make the most of this experience,” said ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada. 

Ispace, which was established in 2010, has two more missions on the horizon. It has said it would continue to analyze the data collected from the incident, identify the root cause of the failure, and use that to dramatically improve its technology ahead of future missions. 

Only three countries have successfully landed on the moon, and ispace is still trying to become the first commercial company to achieve that same feat. Tucked inside its Hakuto-R spacecraft were two lunar rovers: a four-wheeled vehicle from the United Arab Emirates called Rashid and a miniature rover built by Sony and Japanese toy company, Tomy, which looked like something out of the Star Wars universe. Also on board were a number of scientific payloads from agencies around the world, including the U.S. and Canada.

The mission had 10 major objectives, and company representatives said eight of the 10 were completed before the spacecraft was due to land on the moon.

“We are very proud of the fact that we have achieved many things during this Mission 1,” Hakamada said. “We will keep going — never quit the lunar quest.” 

The company, which employs more than 200 people around the world, has two more lunar landings on the books, one set for 2024 and one for 2025.

“We have an opportunity to accelerate our speed of development and make sure that in the next mission we have much higher maturity of the technology,” said Hakamada. “And a higher chance for success.”

Tags Japan Moon

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