Japan’s ISpace lost contact with its Hakuto-R moon lander

A Japanese start-up hoping to become the first commercial company to successfully land on the moon lost contact with its spacecraft on Tuesday, the company said after a tense period trying to re-establish communications with the lander.

The uncrewed Hakuto-R lander, made by Tokyo-based ISpace, was descending from lunar orbit and nearing the lunar surface when ground controllers lost contact with the eastbound lander around 12:40 p.m. Engineers continued to try to communicate with the spacecraft, but said they feared the worst.

“We consider that we are unable to complete the landing on the lunar surface,” iSpace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said during the company’s live broadcast. “Our engineers will continue to investigate the situation. … All I can say at this point is that we’re very proud of the many things we’ve already accomplished during this mission.

In an interview with The Post, Hagamada said he told his team to keep their heads up. “We’ve already achieved great success…we should be proud of what we’ve done and we’ll keep going.” He said the team will be able to incorporate the lessons learned into their next venture, which is planned for next year. He added that landing on the moon was not easy. But it is not impossible.

The attempt was the latest in a string of failed robotic lunar-landing missions. In 2019, a privately funded Israeli spacecraft landed on the moon, and later that year, an Indian spacecraft carrying a rover also failed in its slow landing attempt.

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By the end of the year, two more companies – Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, both based in the US – are expected to join forces with NASA to try to land on the moon as part of the space agency’s Artemis program. For human landings.

The journey into space began when the shuttle launched from Florida in December aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It took a circuitous path to the moon before attempting to land on Tuesday in the Atlas crater of the moon’s northeast quadrant. Although company leaders expressed confidence that their spacecraft would touch down successfully, they acknowledged the difficulty of landing on the moon and other recent failed attempts.

The Hakuto-R mission grew out of the Google Lunar X Prize, a failed attempt to encourage private sector efforts to send spacecraft to the Moon. After the competition was dissolved without a winner, iSpace continued with its project.

Its spacecraft carried a 22-pound rover developed by the United Arab Emirates, marking the first Arab lunar mission. There was also a three-inch mobile robot developed by the Japanese space agency and a Japanese toy company to take photos while on the moon.

NASA is not involved in the mission, but ispace has said it hopes to partner with the space agency in the future through its US subsidiary in Denver.

In the coming years, NASA plans to build a permanent presence around the moon, eventually sending astronauts to the moon’s south pole to search for water in the form of ice in permanently shadowed craters. It intends to assemble a small space station in lunar orbit called Gateway.

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China is also staring at the moon. In 2019, it became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon. It also plans to send astronauts to the South Pole of the Moon.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has said that the United States, which is effectively barred by law from cooperating with China in space, is engaged in a space race with China. At a congressional hearing last week, he warned that the United States should send its astronauts to the moon rather than China.

“If you let China in there first, what’s to stop them from saying, ‘We’re here? This is our territory. You stay out.’? That’s why I think it’s important for us to go there and establish the rules of the road for an international mission.”

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