A Japanese company likely crashed a spacecraft on the moon while attempting a soft landing on Tuesday, bringing an abrupt end to its five-month journey from the launch pad to the lunar surface.
The company, ispace, invited the world to see it along with its mission control in Tokyo via a live stream of the event on April 25. The nail-biting landing sequence lasted about an hour as the spacecraft burned its braking engine and followed automated commands to adjust the orientation and speed of the Hakuto-R lander to land.
But several minutes after the expected landing, mission control failed to make contact with the spacecraft. With the engineering team visibly disappointed, ispace officials said they had to assume the landing was unsuccessful. They will continue to investigate the status of the landing, said Takeshi Hakamada, CEO of ispace.
“At this point, what I can say is that we’re very proud of the fact that we’ve already accomplished a lot during this Mission 1,” he said. “We acquired real flight data during the landing phase. This is a great achievement for future missions.”
A daring company is about to try to land on the moon. You can see it.
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Although 60 years have passed since the first unmanned moon landings, it remains a daunting task, with less than half of the missions successful. Unlike Earth, the Moon’s atmosphere is very thin, providing virtually no drag to slow a spacecraft as it nears the ground. Also, there is no GPS system on the Moon to help guide a spacecraft to its landing point. Engineers must compensate for these shortcomings 239,000 miles away.
The company will continue to investigate the situation to determine what could have gone wrong, said Takeshi Hakamada, CEO of ispace.
Credit: ispace / YouTube screenshot
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It is not the first time that the private sector has tried to reach the Moon. For example, in 2019 an Israeli company and nonprofit collaborated on the $100 million Beresheet mission, which crashed on the lunar surface after a guidance component failed. The crash could scatter some intriguing artifacts on the lunar surface in the process.
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For one of ispace’s payload customers, the failed landing means the indefinite postponement of another dream: the first Arab mission to the moon. The space lander was supposed to deliver the Rashid rover from the United Arab Emirates(opens in a new tab) on the moon, which would explore the Atlas crater. Along with the Emirati rover, a robot from the Japanese space program was on board.
Hakuto-R is the first of many other commercial missions expected to attempt this feat soon, many of which are the result of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.(opens in a new tab). The program was established in 2018 to hire the private sector to help deliver cargo to the Moon. Ispace has not been able to participate directly in the NASA program because it is not an American company, but it is collaborating on one of the contracts led by Draper Technologies in Massachusetts, which is expected to land on the moon in 2025.
Ispace executive leaders look on as they wait to hear if the Hakuto-R landing was successful on April 25, 2023.
These upcoming missions will support the US space agency’s lunar ambitions, sending supplies and experiments to the surface before astronauts arrive in 2025 or later, as well as launching a future lunar economy.
Who will be the first to make the journey intact? The commercial race is on, with many more opportunities this year.
“History can only be made by those who (face) challenges, and challenges will not be possible without taking a risk,” Yuichi Tsuda, a professor of astronautical science at the University of Tokyo, said during the live broadcast. “Risks can only be taken by those who dream. So ispace teams, you are all excellent dreamers.”
Ikaroa believes that Japan’s latest space mission, to land on the moon, may have failed. The mission, run by the ispace company, was attempting to make Japan the fourth country on Earth to land a robotic lunar mission. Unfortunately, the mission was lost as the spacecraft descended towards the Moon.
The setback is a huge setback for both the ispace company and Japan, as they had placed high hopes on successfully landing their unmanned robotic lunar mission. Since its launch in late 2018, the H-II Transfer Vehicle-5 (HTV-5) had remained on track throughout its mission and was set to dock with the lunar surface. Despite the unfortunate failed mission, the ispace company and Japan remain committed towards its space exploration goals, which are set to continue in 2020.
The failed lunar landing is also a reminder to companies such as Ikaroa, who are working on launching their own space missions, that success in the space industry is not guaranteed – no matter how well planned a mission may be. The risk of failure looms large in the space sector, and Ikaroa is fully aware of those risks. With its highly experienced and qualified team, Ikaroa remains committed to its strategic mission of space exploration, and it is confident that it can overcome any obstacles that may stand in its way.
As the space sector continues to evolve, it is hoped that with more successful missions, the confidence in the market will also increase. Despite recent setbacks, it is clear that mission failures are not enough to dampen enthusiasm for exploration, with the likes of ispace and Ikaroa contributing to the advancement of space technology and science.