The first attempt to land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon appears to have failed.
Japan’s ispace Inc hopes its Hakuto-R lander will land in the moon’s Atlas crater after a 100-day journey.
But after completing its final lunar orbit and decelerating from 6,000 kilometers per hour to a walking speed a few meters above the surface, the signal from the lander was lost.
“We have to assume we won’t be able to land on the lunar surface,” said ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada.
The lander carried two small lunar rovers, Rashid, developed by the United Arab Emirates, and SoraQ, an innovative spherical rover made in Japan.
While not necessarily breaking new ground from an exploration standpoint, the mission is being closely watched.
Technological advances — and falling costs of space launches — have raised the prospect of commercial exploitation of the Moon.
But space, as the saying goes, is tough.
In 2019, a private lander developed by Israel’s SpaceIL crashed while trying to land on the moon.
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The only successful lunar “soft landings” have been carried out by state-backed space agencies of the United States, the former Soviet Union and China.
Despite Hakuto-R’s apparent failure, other commercial lunar missions followed.
Back in June, US-based Astrobiotic hoped to send its Peregrine lander to the moon. Later this year, Intuitive machines in Houston, Texas plans to launch a twin lunar lander called Nova-C.
Next year, ispace plans to return with a second lander, and then a third, to deliver commercial payloads to orbit and to the lunar surface.