Another lander has crashed on the moon. The lunar lander Hakuto-R, launched by Japanese firm ispace in December 2022, was supposed to touch down on the moon on 25 April. If it had been successful, it would have been the first privately funded moon landing. But like a previous attempt, it crashed.
“We already confirmed that we have established communication until the very end of the landing – however, now we have lost the communication, so we have to assume that… we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface,” said ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada minutes after the landing attempt. “Our engineers will continue to investigate the situation.”
In 2019, Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL attempted to send its Beresheet craft to make a similar moon landing, but part of the engine failed and it crashed into the lunar surface. It isn’t yet clear why the Hakuto-R lander didn’t make a safe landing.
While the trip to the moon can be as short as a few days, Hakuto-R didn’t take a direct path – in order to save fuel, it took a circuitous route, using the gravity of Earth and the sun to give it an extra push over the course of its three-month voyage. It arrived in lunar orbit in March, and since then it has been slowly circling towards the moon and examining the surface to make sure its landing spot was safe.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the mission came at the end, when the spacecraft needed to slow down from more than 750 kilometres per hour to zero over a period of less than 3 minutes. At a media briefing before the landing, the company’s CTO Ryo Ujiie likened slowing Hakuto-R down for a soft landing to “stepping on the brakes on a running bicycle at the edge of a ski jumping hill”. If Hakuto-R wasn’t able to slow down enough in the end, it may have crash-landed.
The lander didn’t crash alone: it carried with it a variety of payloads for assorted countries and customers. Among them were a small rover called Rashid for the United Arab Emirates’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, and an even smaller two-wheeled robot for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
As ispace investigates the crash and applies the resulting knowledge to its planned second and third launches, two other firms intend to launch lunar landers during 2023. Both of those companies are based in the US – Intuitive Machines has the Nova-C lander, and Astrobotic has the Peregrine lander. With this crash, they will still be vying to be the first successful private moon landing.