Why Japan’s private lunar lander crashed on the Moon

Why Japan’s private lunar lander crashed on the Moon

Japanese company ispace finally knows what caused its beloved lunar lander to crash into the surface of the Moon. The unlikely culprit of the lander’s free fall appears to have been a large cliff, which caused Hakuto-R to miscalculate its distance from the surface.

One month after Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) lunar lander plunged towards the cratered surface of the MoonTokyo-based ispace released the results of his investigation in the failure of its inaugural mission. The company revealed that as the lander descended towards the lunar surface, Hakuto-R estimated it was very close to zero altitude. when in reality it was almost 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the surface. As a result, the lander slowed down down its speeds on the way down, eventually running out of fuel and falling free on the moon.

A view of the alleged crash site, with debris strewn across the surface of the Moon.
Picture: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The lander probably miscalculated its altitude after flying over the edge of a crater it was about 1.8 miles (3 kilometers) higher than the surrounding lunar surface. “Although the lander did not perform a soft landing, the cause has been identified and improvements are being incorporated into Missions 2 and 3,” ispace wrote in its statement.

Hakuto-R M1 launched on December 11, 2022 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, marking the Japanese company’s maiden mission. ispace was looking for to become the first private space company to successfully land on the surface of the Moon. In 2019, The Israeli lander Bersheet suffered the same fate in its own bid to become the first private lander to safely reach the lunar surface.

Related: NASA’s Lunar Orbiter captures harrowing views of Japanese lander crash site

The Japanese mission had been climb slowly up to last moments before the crash. THE Hakuto-R M1 the lander had to touch down on April 25 at 12:40 p.m. ET, but “shortly after the scheduled touchdown time, no data was received indicating a touchdown,” ispace wrote in a statement at the time.

Hakuto-R M1 carried both commercial and government-owned payloads, including a tiny two-wheeled transforming robot from the Japanese space agency. The lunar lander was expected to usher in a new era for commercial space ventures by regularly delivering payloads to the Moon.

After the failed landing attempt, shares of ispace fell 20% to mark its stock’s worst performance since its IPO earlier this month. Bloomberg reported at the time. The company would work on two follow-up missions, with lessons learned from its first attempt.

“Mission 1 demonstrated high technical reliability, as our lander reached the lunar surface just before touchdown,” ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a Friday statement. “Now we were able to identify the problem during the landing and have a very clear idea of ​​how to improve our future missions.”

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