TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese startup iSpace (9348.T) said its attempt to make the first private moon landing failed after it lost contact with its Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) lander, concluding that it most likely crashed. on the surface of the moon.
“We’ve lost communication, so we have to assume we can’t complete the moon landing,” Founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a company livestream.
This was the second setback for private space development in a week after a SpaceX Starship rocket exploded spectacularly minutes after rising from the launch pad.
No private company has yet succeeded in landing on the moon. Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and China have spacecraft that have soft-landed on the Moon, with attempts in recent years by India and a private Israeli company ending in failure.
Shares in ispace, which ferries payloads like rovers to the moon and sells related data, did not trade on Wednesday morning, but indicated it was below the daily limit. The stock debuted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange just two weeks ago and has doubled in value since then.
Japanese government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said that while the mission was not completed, the country wanted space to “keep trying” because its efforts were important to the development of the domestic space industry.
Japan, which has set itself the goal of sending Japanese astronauts to the Moon by the late 2020s, has had some recent setbacks. Last month, the National Space Agency had to destroy its new H3 medium-lift rocket upon arrival in space after the second-stage engine failed to ignite. The solid-fuel Epsilon rocket also failed after its launch in October.
Brakes on a ski slope
Four months after it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket, the M1 probe appeared poised to land autonomously at about 12:40 p.m. ET (1640 GMT Tuesday), with animations based on live telemetry data. which appear to come within 90 meters (295 ft) of the lunar surface.
By the time of the expected touchdown, mission control had lost contact with the lander and the engineers seemed anxious about the live broadcast as they waited for confirmation of its fate that never came.
“Our engineers will continue to investigate the situation,” Hakamada said. “At the moment, what I can say is that we are very proud of the fact that we have already achieved many things during this first mission.”
He added that the probe has completed eight out of the mission’s 10 goals in space, which will provide valuable data for the next landing attempt in 2024.
Roughly an hour before the planned descent, the 2.3-meter-tall M1 began its descent phase, gradually tightening its orbit around the Moon from 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the surface to nearly 25 kilometers, and traveling at 6,000 kilometers per hour (3,700 miles). per hour). ).
At that speed, slowing the probe to the correct speed against the pull of the Moon’s gravity is like hitting the brakes of a bicycle on the edge of a ski-jumping ramp, said chief technology officer Ryo Oji.
The rover was intended for a landing site on the edge of Mare Frigoris in the lunar northern hemisphere where it was to deploy a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tomy Co Ltd (7867.T) and Sony Group Corporation (6758.T). It also plans to deploy a four-wheeled rover dubbed Rashid from the United Arab Emirates.
The probe was carrying an experimental solid-state battery made by Niterra Co Ltd (5334.T) among other instruments to measure its performance on the moon.
The mission was insured by Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company, a unit of MS & AD Insurance Group (8725.T), and ispace said it may receive some compensation.
Reporting by Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Stephen Coates
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