Japanese Moon lander may have crashed on impact

The race to be the first private company to land on the Moon is still on after it appeared the Hakuto-R Mission 1 by ispace failed today.

At around 5.40pm BST the M1 lander began its final descent into the Moon’s Atlas Crater in the northern hemisphere. Viewers tuning in to watch the landing were able to watch an animation of the spacecraft making its descent, but long after the CGI version had touched down, its real life counterpart had yet to make contact with mission control back on Earth.

Around 20 minutes after landing, ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada confirmed that communication had been lost at the final stage.

‘We have lost communication, so we have to assume we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface,’ he said. ‘But engineers will continue to investigate the situation.

‘At this moment what I can say is that we’re very proud of the work we’ve achieved during this mission. We secured communications until the very end, so acquired actual flight data during landing phase – that is a great achievement for future missions

‘To that end, it is important to feedback on what we learned from mission 1.

‘We will keep going, and never quit in our quest.’

Only the US, China and the former Soviet Union have successfully ‘soft-landed’ a spacecraft on the Moon – meaning a controlled descent with no significant damage. Recent missions by India and a private Israeli company both failed.

The M1 took off from Cape Canaveral in December on board a SpaceX Falcon 9, and successfully entered lunar orbit in March, travelling around the Moon at more than 3,700mph.

Speaking at a media briefing on Monday, ispace chief technology officer Ryo Ujiie likened the task of slowing down the lander to the correct speed against the Moon’s gravitational pull to ‘stepping on the brakes on a running bicycle at the edge of a ski jumping hill’.

The lander is carrying two rovers intended to explore the lunar surface, a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover developed by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Japanese toymaker Tomy Co and Sony Group, and the United Arab Emirates’ four-wheeled ‘Rashid’ Rover.

If the lander was destroyed on impact, it will be another blow for Japan’s space industry, which hopes to send astronauts to the Moon by the end of this decade.

Last month a new medium-lift rocket was lost to a forced manual destruction, while in October its solid-fuel Epsilon rocket failed after launch. 

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