Japanese startup ispace experienced a major setback in its attempt to make history with the first private moon landing. The company lost communication with its Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) lander, which likely resulted in a crash on the lunar surface. Despite the failure, ispace remains determined to move forward with new missions and continue its pioneering private space effort.
Ispace’s Chief Executive Takeshi Hakamada announced during a company live stream, “We lost the communication, so we have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface.” Engineers in mission control in Tokyo tried to reestablish contact with the lander but were unsuccessful.
Ryo Ujiie, the chief technology officer, explained at a news conference the lander’s altitude measurement system may have miscalculated the distance to the lunar surface as it approached the moon. He said, “It apparently went into a freefall towards the surface as it was running out of fuel to fire up its thrusters.”
The failed moon landing follows another significant setback for commercial space development, as SpaceX’s Starship rocket exploded minutes after launch last week. So far, only the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China have successfully soft-landed spacecraft on the moon. Recent attempts by India, a private Israeli company, and now ispace have all ended in failure.
Despite the disappointment, Japan’s top government spokesperson, Hirokazu Matsuno, encouraged ispace to “keep trying” as its efforts are significant for the development of the domestic space industry. Japan has set a goal to send astronauts to the moon by the late 2020s, but has faced recent setbacks with its national space agency’s new medium-lift H3 rocket and solid-fuel Epsilon rocket.
Ispace’s M1 lander was launched four months ago from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket. It was designed to autonomously touch down on the lunar surface, deploying a small, two-wheeled rover developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tomy, and Sony. It was also set to deploy a four-wheeled rover called Rashid from the United Arab Emirates.
Despite the mission’s failure, Hakamada highlighted that the lander completed eight out of 10 mission objectives in space, providing valuable data for the next landing attempt in 2024. “Although we do not expect to complete the lunar landing at this time, we believe that we have fully accomplished the significance of this mission, having acquired a great deal of data and experience,” he said.
Ispace has plans for two more attempts to land on the lunar surface. A US company named Astrobotic is also planning a Moon landing later this year. In a tweet, they congratulated the ispace team on accomplishing a significant number of milestones and encouraged them to “learn from adversity and push forward.”
Ispace, which aims to extend human life into space and create a sustainable world, envisions a population of 1,000 people living on the Moon by 2040, with 10,000 more visiting each year. The company’s next mission, tentatively scheduled for next year, involves both a lunar landing and the deployment of its own rover.