Japanese company ispace fears its probe will crash on the moon, failing to make the first moon landing

Takeshi Hakamada, ispace founder and CEO, watches the HAKUTO-R moon landing from Tokyo.Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

  • The Japanese company ispace is afraid that its lunar lander will crash into the moon on Tuesday.

  • The HAKUTO-R M1 lunar lander lost communication at the end of its landing attempt.

  • On board was a rover for the United Arab Emirates and a “convertible” robot for the Japanese space agency.

Tokyo-based company ispace made a daring attempt to land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon on Tuesday, fearing it would end in a crash landing.

The lunar lander HAKUTO-R M1 appeared to be descending to the moon as planned, allowing ispace to claim the historic achievement of the first private lunar landing – until it was supposed to hand down. The control room appeared tense in the live stream of the operation, which cut off after about five minutes with no update.

people sitting in rows in a dark room with stern faces wearing matching black shirts with white symbols on the arms

ispace employees wait for a signal from the lander in the HAKUTO-R lunar exploration program on the Moon at a center to watch its landing in Tokyo.Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

When the live stream resumed, ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said his team had been in communication with the lander up until the “end” of the landing attempt.

“However, now we have lost communication, so we have to accept that we could not complete the landing on the surface of the moon,” he said. “Our engineers will continue to investigate the situation, and then we will update you [with] More information.”

A similar loss of communications revealed the accident of an Israeli moon landing, known as Beresheet, in 2019. That operation was carried out by the non-profit SpaceIL, in its own attempt to claim the first private moon landing.

Beresheet’s engine went out in deceleration, then SpaceIL lost communication with the spacecraft, indicating that it had crashed into the lunar surface.

israel beresheet private moon lander crash site nasa lunar exploration orbiter lro labeled

An enhanced image shows the crash site of Beresheet, a lunar lander created by Israeli non-profit SpaceIL.NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University; Insider Business

A month later, India’s first attempt to land on the surface of the moon met a similar fate.

“Among all the things we do in space, landing is one of the most challenging aspects, because time is very compressed,” said Robert Braun, an engineer who worked on landing and descent teams for numerous NASA missions to Mars, Insider previously said. “There’s very little margin for trying something again if it doesn’t go as planned.”

That’s because landers must successfully carry out a series of complex commands with little room for failure, while battling the moon’s gravity, uneven terrain, and pesky dust.

The HAKUTO-R lander launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on December 11, and entered lunar orbit in late March.

replica of HAKUTO-R moon lander tall black robot with legs on stage in front of human space suit and picture of earth

A model of the lunar exploration program at ispace the lander in HAKUTO-R.Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

The lander was carrying payloads for companies and governments alike, including the small Rashid rover developed by the United Arab Emirates, which was the nation’s first mission to the surface of the moon.

A baseball-sized “transformable” robot from the Japanese space agency JAXA was also on board, according to SpaceNews.

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