Japan fails to land its first private lunar lander, the Hakuto-R M1, and the dream of becoming the fourth country in the world to achieve a successful lunar landing has been put on hold. According to space industry publication Space.com, at approximately 12:40 pm EST on April 25, the Japanese private space development startup, ispace, lost communication with their self-made spacecraft which was orbiting at an altitude of 100 km.
Hakamada Takeshi, CEO of ispace, stated during a live webcast that “it is estimated that we failed to land on the lunar surface,” and that they plan to continue attempting to establish communication to figure out what happened.
With the failure of the Hakuto-R M1, Japan missed its chance to become the fourth country to achieve a successful lunar landing after the United States, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), and China. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sent its own lunar rover through the M1, but also failed to become the fifth country to successfully land on the moon.
ispace participated in the Google Lunar X Prize competition from 2013 to 2018, in which Google offered a $20 million reward to any team that could successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. ispace formed a team called “Hakuto,” which continued the lunar landing project even after the reward deadline had passed. The company successfully developed its lunar lander and sent it to the moon with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle on December 11th of last year.
The M1 entered lunar orbit on March 20th of this year and was planned to land in the Atlas crater, which is located in the Sea of Cold in the northwest of the lunar surface, covering an area of 87 km. The M1 appeared to be in the correct position based on remote measurements, but did not respond to landing commands. ispace’s operations team suspects that the spacecraft failed to respond, even though they have received data from the M1. Nonetheless, ispace believes they have achieved a lot despite the failure.
As a result of the M1’s failure, the exploration rovers on board were also lost. The M1 carried a tiny robot named “Sorato-Q,” developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and a 10kg mini-rover named “Rashid,” developed by the UAE Space Agency. Rashid was considered a state-of-the-art device that featured an artificial intelligence operating system developed by Canadian companies and a multi-image capturing system, which would have greatly helped researchers study the lunar surface features for two weeks.