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ispace’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Fails to Land on the Moon

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 25, 2023
Filed under , , , , , ,
ispace’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Fails to Land on the Moon
The HAKUTO-R image shows the eastern rim of the Moon with the Petavius, Vendelinus, and Langrenus craters. (Credit: ispace)

Updated on March 25 at 5:27 p.m. PDT

ispace attempt to become the first private company to land on the moon apparently fell short on Tuesday as controllers lost contact with the HAKUTO-R M1 lander during the final moments of descent.

“We have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface,” ispace Founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada told a disappointed crowd at Miraikan, The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo. ispace webcast the landing attempt live to a worldwide audience.

Hakamada said ispace, which recently began trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, would go forward with two additional missions to land payloads on the moon.

“We will keep going, never quit, do not quit,” he said.

ispace lost contact with the lander as it was seconds away from landing in Atlas crater in the Mare Frigoris region of the moon. Hakamada announced the mission’s apparent failure after controllers spent about 20 minutes trying to regain contact with the lander.

Landing area. Credit: ispace.

In an update, ispace said the lander appeared to have run out of propellant as it neared the lunar surface.

“Based on the currently available data, the HAKUTO-R Mission Control Center in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, confirmed that the lander was in a vertical position as it carried out the final approach to the lunar surface. Shortly after the scheduled landing time, no data was received indicating a touchdown,” ispace said.

“ispace engineers monitored the estimated remaining propellant reached at the lower threshold and shortly afterward the descent speed rapidly increased. After that, the communication loss happened. Based on this, it has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon’s surface,” the company added.

“To find the root cause of this situation, ispace engineers are currently working on a detailed analysis of the telemetry date acquired until the end of landing sequence and will clarify the details after completing the analysis,” ispace said.

HAKUTO-R was to have spent 10 days operating on the lunar surface. The vehicle carried 30 kg (66 lb) of commercial and government payloads, including:

  • United Arab Emirates’ Rashid lunar rover
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)SORA-Q transformable lunar robot
  • NGK Spark Plug Company’s solid-state battery test module
  • Mission Control Space Services Inc.’s artificial intelligence (AI) flight computer
  • multiple 360-degree cameras from Canadensys Aerospace
  • music disc with the song “SORATO” performed by Japanese rock band Sakanaction, an original supporter of Team HAKUTO during Google Lunar XPRIZE
  • panel engraved with the names of Team HAKUTO crowdfunding supporters during Google Lunar XPRIZE.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 launched HAKUTO-R on December 11, 2022. The spacecraft had completed eight of its 10 mission milestones during its more than four months in space.

HAKUTO-R Mission Milestones

ispace is the second private company to attempt a landing on the moon. SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander crashed during its landing attempt on April 11, 2019.

Both ispace and Israel-based SpaceIL competed in the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize competition for the first private company to land and operate a rover on the moon. The prize ended in 2018 without a winner.

Only the United States, China and the Soviet Union have successfully landed on the moon. India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander crashed while attempting a landing on September 6, 2019.

ispace is headquartered in Japan with subsidiaries in Luxembourg and Denver, Colorado. ispace is planning a series of missions to the moon. The second lander, which is set to launch in 2024, will deploy a rover on the surface.

NumberMilestoneSuccess CriteriaStatus
1Completion of launch preparationComplete all development processes of the Series 1 lunar lander before flight operations
Contract and prepare launch vehicle, and complete integration of lunar lander into the launch vehicle
2Completion of Launch and DeploymentComplete successful separation of the lunar lander from the launch vehicle
Provide that the lander’s structure is capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of launch, validating the design and gathering information towards future developments and missions
3Establishment of a Steady Operation State (*Initial Critical Operation Status)Establish communication link between the lander and Mission Control, confirm a stable attitude, as well as start stable generation of electrical power in orbit. The completion of this step verifies the integrity of lander core systems and customer payloads
4Completion of first orbital control maneuverComplete the first orbital control maneuver, setting the lander on a course towards the Moon and verifying operation of the main propulsion system, as well as related guidance, control and navigation system
5Completion of stable deep-space flight operations for one monthProve that the lander is capable of steady deep-space flight by completing a nominal cruise and orbital control maneuvers over a one-month period
6Completion of all deep space orbital control maneuvers before LOIComplete all planned deep space orbital control maneuvers by utilizing gravity assist effects and successfully target the first lunar orbit insertion maneuver. This stage proves the ability of the lander’s deep-space survivability, as well as the viability of ispace’s orbital planning
7Reaching the lunar gravitational field/lunar orbitComplete the first lunar orbit insertion maneuver and confirm the lander is in a lunar orbit, verifying the ability of ispace to deliver spacecraft and payloads into stable lunar orbits
8Completion of all orbital control maneuvers in lunar orbitComplete all planned lunar orbital control maneuvers before the landing sequence
Confirm the lander is ready to start the landing sequence
9Completion of lunar landingComplete the landing sequences, verifying key landing abilities for future missions
10Establishment of a steady system state after lunar landingEstablish steady telecommunication and power supply on the lunar surface after landing to support customer payloads’ surface operations.
Source: ispace

5 responses to “ispace’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Fails to Land on the Moon”

  1. Rabbit says:

    Oh, it LANDED, alright.
    Space is hard. Regolith is harder.

  2. lopan says:

    Bummer. ispace seems like a pretty nice shop. Success would have been well-deserved.

  3. Terry Rawnsley says:

    Amazingly similar to the Beresheet outcome (except ispace didn’t leave tardigrades stranded on the moon.) They need to increase the fuel margin next time.

    • duheagle says:

      I was reminded more of one of the early F9 booster landing tests that failed because the grid fin hydraulics ran out of fluid seconds before touchdown.

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