The last complete image of asteroid moonlet Dimorphos, taken by the Draco imager on Nasa’s Dart mission from 12 kilometres from the asteroid and 2 seconds before impact. The image shows a patch of the asteroid that is 31 meters across. (Credits: Nasa / Johns Hopkins APL)
Tokyo-based Ispace said it could not confirm if its spacecraft successfully landed on the moon. The company’s chief executive said it assumed the landing failed.
It was poised to become the first commercial space attempt to place a lander on the moon intact, with its Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander scheduled to touch down early Wednesday morning Japan time.
Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Hakamada said the company lost communication with the lander at some point during its descent to the lunar surface. There is a high chance it didn’t land as intended, he said.
“We had information until a phase very close to landing,” Hakamada said in an interview with reporters. “Information is still limited.
“We have to assume we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface.” he said on a livestream of the mission.
Ispace launched its lander in December aboard one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets. It entered lunar orbit in March and was carrying two rovers and other payloads.
The company earlier this month publicly listed its shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The stock closed down 1% on Tuesday in Japan. CEO Hakamada is the second-largest shareholder with an ownership stake of about 15%.
Ispace is one of several companies hoping to place the first commercial lander on the moon’s surface. Two US firms, Houston-based Intuitive Machines Inc. and Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology Inc., have uncrewed missions planned for later this year.
Google Prize Contender
Officially formed in 2010 to compete in the Google Lunar X Prize, the Tokyo-based company has said it wants to create a lunar settlement by 2040. It plans to make money by delivering equipment and goods to and from the moon.
Ispace also has partnered with the US-based Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, which holds a $73-million contract with Nasa to deliver a suite of the agency’s payloads to the lunar surface in 2025, a small part of Nasa’s Artemis programme to return astronauts to the moon.
Only governments and superpowers have been able to successfully land vehicles on the moon. The Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, another Google Lunar X Prize team, tried in 2019 to place the first privately funded lander on the moon, but the spacecraft came in too fast and crashed on the surface.
Japan’s space efforts have recently experienced several setbacks.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s H3 rocket, designed and manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to meet growing demand for rockets with large payload capacity, failed to launch once in February after a system malfunction kept it grounded, and again in March when a self-destruct order was sent mid-flight after its second-stage booster failed to ignite.
US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced last May that their countries would work together to put the first Japanese astronaut on the moon. A dearth of young astronauts led the Japanese space agency in February to recruit two civilians, a Red Cross surgeon and a World Bank senior employee.