Private landing on the moon by Japanese company iSpace fails

Photos taken from the spacecraft over the weekend

A Japanese company hoping to carry out a rare private Moon landing says it is likely its lunar lander crashed on the surface.

Communication was lost with Hakuto-R moments before it was due to touch down on Tuesday. Engineers are investigating what happened.

The Tokyo-based iSpace had hoped the lander would release an exploratory rover, as well as a tennis ball-sized robot developed by a toymaker.

The craft was launched by a SpaceX rocket in December, and took five months to reach its destination.

“We have not confirmed communication with the lander,” iSpace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said about 25 minutes after the planned landing.

“We have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface,” he added.

Mr Hakamada later said that despite not expecting to complete the mission, the company had “fully accomplished the significance of this mission, having acquired a great deal of data and experience by being able to execute the landing phase”.

The M1 lander appeared set to touch down after coming as close as 295 feet (89 m) from the lunar surface, a live animation showed.

The lander was just over 2m tall and weighed 340kg, relatively small and compact by lunar spacecraft standards. It had been due for an hour-long landing manoeuvre from its orbit, around 100km above the surface, where it was moving at nearly 6,000km/hour.

After reaching the landing site in the Moon’s northern hemisphere, the Hakuto-R was to deploy two payloads to analyse the lunar soil, its geology and atmosphere. One of them was made by the toy company TOMY, which created the Transformers.

The United States, Russia and China are the only countries to have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface, all through government-sponsored programmes.

In 2019, Israel’s Beresheet mission became the first attempt by a private company to land on the Moon. Its spacecraft managed to orbit the moon but was lost during the landing attempt.

The primary aim of the Japanese mission was to assess the viability of commercial launches to the lunar surface. It was the first test by iSpace of what they hope will be a series of commercial landers over the next few years, each more ambitious than the previous.

The company’s vision is to provide commercial services for a sustained human presence on the lunar surface, such as sending up equipment for mining and producing rocket fuel.


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