A Japanese startup that attempted the first private moon landing said Wednesday that it had lost communication with its spacecraft and speculated that the lunar mission had failed.
Ispace said it was unable to establish communication with the Hakuto-R uncrewed lunar lander after its scheduled landing time, a frustrating end to a mission that began with a US launch more than four months ago.
“We have not confirmed communication with the lander,” a company official told reporters about 25 minutes after the scheduled touchdown.
“We have to assume that we could not complete the lunar surface landing,” the official said.
Officials said they would continue to try to make contact with the spacecraft, which was carrying payloads from several countries, including a lunar rover from the United Arab Emirates.
Ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said after the apparent botched landing that he had been capturing data from the spacecraft up until the planned landing and would be examining it for signs of what happened.
-Pioneering Private Space Effort-
The lander, just over two meters (6.5 feet) tall and weighing 340 kilograms (750 pounds), has been in lunar orbit since last month.
Its descent and landing were fully automated and it was supposed to re-establish communication as soon as it landed.
So far only the United States, Russia and China have managed to put a spacecraft on the lunar surface, all through government-sponsored programs.
In April 2019, the Israeli organization SpaceIL saw their lander crash into the surface of the Moon.
India also attempted to land a spacecraft on the moon in 2016 but crashed.
Two US companies, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, are expected to attempt a moon landing later this year.
“We congratulate the ispace inc team for achieving a significant number of milestones en route to today’s landing attempt,” Astrobotic said in a tweet.
“We hope everyone recognizes that today is not the day to avoid pursuing the lunar frontier, but an opportunity to learn from adversity and move forward.”
– Plans for settlement on the Moon –
Ispace, which listed its shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s growth market earlier this month, was already planning its next mission before Hakuto-R’s bankruptcy.
The spacecraft, whose name refers to the white rabbit that lives on the moon in Japanese folklore, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on December 11 on one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.
The lander carried several lunar rovers, including a round, baseball-sized robot jointly developed by the Japanese space agency and toymaker Takara Tomy, the creator of the Transformer toys.
It also had the 10-kilogram (22 lb) chair-sized Rashid rover developed by the United Arab Emirates and an experimental imaging system from Canadensys Aerospace.
With just 200 employees, ispace said it “aims to extend the sphere of human life into space and create a sustainable world by providing low-cost, high-frequency transportation services to the Moon.”
Hakamada touted the mission as “the foundation for unlocking the potential of the Moon and transforming it into a robust and vibrant economic system.”
The company believes the Moon will support a population of 1,000 by 2040, with 10,000 more visits each year.
It is planning a second mission, tentatively scheduled for next year, which involves both a moon landing and the deployment of its own rover.