Japanese Hakuto-R lander by the private company iSpace fails to land on the Moon. The robot was supposed to be the first private spacecraft and the first one built in Japan to land on our satellite. However, it seems that none of this happened, and iSpace lost contact with Hakuto-R just as it was expected to softly land on lunar regolith on April 25th at 16:40 GMT.

“We have to assume that we cannot complete the landing on the lunar surface” said iSpace CEO Takeshi Hakamada during the webcast of the historic attempt.

M1 Mission

The landing attempt was supposed to culminate more than a decade of work. From 2013 to 2018, the company managed the Hakuto team as part of the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition that offered $20 million to the first private group to land a robotic probe on the Moon. The prize expired in 2018 without a winner, but iSpace continued to develop its lander.

In December 2022, Hakuto-R launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in a mission called M1. The probe arrived in lunar orbit on March 20th, and the lander began its descent on April 25th through a series of maneuvers that took about an hour.

The landing site was the floor of the 87 km-wide Atlas crater, located in the region of Mare Frigoris. According to the telemetry provided during the webcast, Hakuto-R was well-positioned but failed to complete the landing maneuver. However, the probe continued to transmit data during the landing attempt, said Hakamada, describing it as a success for the M1 mission.

Objectives of Hakuto-R

M1 was designed to demonstrate that the company’s hardware and know-how were ready for lunar landing. Hakuto-R carried a variety of interesting technologies for the mission. For example, an experimental solid-state battery built by the Japanese company Niterra was supposed to be tested under extreme conditions aboard the lander.

Hakuto-R was supposed to deploy two robots on the lunar surface. Sora-Q, a robot developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and Rashid, a 10 kg rover that would be operated by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency. The latter was supposed to perform a variety of observations during the lunar day (14 Earth days). Its cameras and another instrument were intended to characterize the electrically charged surface environment of the Moon.

Furthermore, its work was supposed to be enhanced by a machine learning program developed by the Canadian company Mission Control Space Services. This part of the M1 mission was also historic, as no AI had ever traveled beyond Earth’s orbit before.

Future Lunar Missions

The failure of M1 will only be a setback on iSpace’s journey. The company aims to launch its second and third lunar missions in 2024 and 2025, respectively. They will continue to enhance their Earth-to-Moon transportation services. “Our vision is to establish an economically feasible and sustainable ecosystem in cis-lunar space” said Hakamada to Space.com just before M1 took off.

The 2025 mission, known as M3, is part of NASA‘s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. CLPS employs privately built landers to deliver the agency’s scientific equipment to the lunar surface, with the broader goal of supporting NASA’s crewed lunar exploration program, Artemis.

Numerous other CLPS missions are planned in the coming years. The next missions involve two private American landers scheduled to fly this summer: Astrobotic‘s Peregrine, making its debut on the United Launch Alliance‘s Vulcan Centaur rocket, and Intuitive MachinesNova-C on a Falcon 9. While Hakuto-R fails to land on the Moon, it will not be an isolated event. Instead, it was one of the first steps in a wave of private explorations that will help humanity establish a true lunar outpost.

Sofia Bianchi
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