Japanese company says moon lander unexpectedly accelerated and likely crashed

A Japanese of the company spatialship apparently crashed while attempting to land on the moon on Wednesday, losing contact moments before touchdown and sending flight controllers scrambling to figure out what had happened.

More than six hours after the end of the communication, the Tokyo-based company ispace has finally confirmed what everyone suspected, saying that there was “a high probability” that the lander had hit the moon after an unexpected acceleration.

It was a disappointing setback for ispace, which after a 4.5 month mission was on the verge of doing what only three countries have done: successfully landing a spacecraft on the moon.

Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace, remained hopeful even after contact was lost as the lander descended the final 33 feet. Flight controllers stared at their screens in Tokyo as the minutes ticked by with only the silence of the moon.

A grim-faced team surrounded Hakamada as he announced that the landing had probably failed.

Official word finally came in a statement: “It has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the surface of the moon.”

If all had gone well, ispace would have been the first private company to successfully land on the moon. Hakamada vowed to try again, saying a second moonshot was already in the works for next year.

Only three governments have managed to land on the Moon: Russia, the United States and China. An Israeli nonprofit attempted to land on the moon in 2019, but its spacecraft was destroyed on impact.

“If space is tough, landing is tougher,” tweeted Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I know from personal experience how awful this is.”

Takeshi Hakamada, CEO of Japanese company ispace, bows after explaining that the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander was cut on Wednesday.AFP-Getty Images

Leshin worked on NASA’s Mars Polar lander which crashed on the Red Planet in 1999.

The 7-foot Japanese lander carried a mini lunar rover for the United Arab Emirates and a toy-like robot from Japan designed to roll around in moon dust for about 10 days. This was also the expected duration of the full mission.

Named Hakuto, Japanese for White Rabbit, the spacecraft had targeted the Atlas crater in the northeast part of the moon’s near face, more than 80 km across and just over 1.5 km across. depth.

It took a circuitous route to the moon after it lifted off in December, returning photos of Earth along the way. The lander entered lunar orbit on March 21.

Flight controllers found the lander to be vertical as it used its thrusters to slow down during Wednesday’s final approach. Engineers monitoring the fuel gauge noticed that as the tank approached empty, the lander picked up speed on the way down and communication was then lost, according to ispace.

It’s possible the lander miscalculated its altitude and ran out of fuel before reaching the surface, company officials said at a news conference later in the day.

Founded in 2010, ispace hopes to start generating profits as a one-way taxi service to the moon for other businesses and organizations. The company has already raised $300 million to cover the first three missions, according to Hakamada.

“We will continue, never give up on the moon quest,” he said.

For this test flight, the two main experiments were sponsored by the government: the 22-pound (10-kilogram) Rashid rover from the United Arab Emirates, named after the royal family of Dubai, and the orange-sized sphere from the ‘Japanese space agency designed to transform into a wheeled robot on the moon. The United Arab Emirates – already orbiting Earth with an astronaut aboard the International Space Station and orbiting Mars – was looking to expand its presence to the Moon.

The moon is suddenly hot again, with many countries and private companies clamoring to get on the moon train. China has successfully landed three spacecraft on the Moon since 2013, and the United States, China, India and South Korea have satellites currently orbiting the Moon.

NASA’s first test flight in its new Moonshot program, Artemis, went to the Moon late last year, paving the way for four astronauts to follow by the end of the year. next and two more to land on the Moon a year later. . Pittsburgh’s Astrobotic Technology and Houston’s Intuitive Machines have lunar landers on standby in the wings, ready for launch later this year at NASA’s request.

Hakuto and the Israeli spacecraft named Beresheet were finalists in the Google Lunar X Prize competition demanding a successful moon landing by 2018. The $20 million grand prize was not claimed.

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