Japan’s historic private moon landing ends in failure

26 Apr 2023

Illustration of the Hakuto-R lunar lander. Image: iSpace

iSpace believes its Hakuto-R lunar lander crashed onto the moon’s surface, but said it has learned valuable data for its future mission attempts.

A Japanese start-up’s attempt to be the first private company to land on the moon has been halted, after communication with the lunar lander was lost.

The company, iSpace, launched its Hakuto-R lunar lander from a SpaceX rocket last December before entering a safe orbit around the moon in March. The lander was attempting one of its final mission milestones, a soft landing on the moon‘s surface.

Hakuto-R was scheduled to land yesterday (25 April), but iSpace engineers found that they could no longer communicate with its the lander as it moved closer to the moon’s surface.

The Japanese start-up said the lander was in a vertical position as it carried out its final approach to the lunar surface, based on existing data. Engineers saw the lander’s descent speed “rapidly increase” before communications were lost.

“It has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon’s surface,” iSpace said in a statement.

“To find the root cause of this situation, iSpace engineers are currently working on a detailed analysis of the telemetry data acquired until the end of landing sequence and will clarify the details after completing the analysis.”

The iSpace mission aimed to complete a soft landing on the moon’s surface and deploy two lunar rovers. One of these was Rashid, a rover developed by scientists based in the United Arab Emirates, which carried materials developed in a lab at Dublin City University to study moon dust.

The communication loss means the final stage of the mission is “not achievable”, but iSpace said its control centre was able to pick up “valuable data and know-how” during the landing attempt.

iSpace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said the company believes it has “fully accomplished the significance of this mission” with the data it has acquired.

“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,” Hakamada said

“To this end, we are already developing Mission 2 and Mission 3 concurrently and have prepared a foundation that can maintain this continuity.”

The company plans to conduct its second mission next year, while Mission 3 is expected to take place in 2025. For the third mission and beyond, iSpace aims to deploy “swarms of rovers to the lunar surface” to discover and develop resources that can enable a “lunar industry and human presence on the moon”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic