Japan’s space agency says its bid for the first commercial moon landing has failed

Japan's space agency says its bid for the first commercial moon landing has failed

TOKYO, April 25 (Reuters) – Japanese startup Espace Inc ( 9348.T ) said its attempt to make the first private moon landing failed after its Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) lost contact with the lander, it concluded. That it is likely to have crashed. on the lunar surface.

“We lost communication, so we have to assume that we didn’t complete the landing on the lunar surface,” company founder and chief executive Takeshi Hakamada said on a company live stream.

It was the second setback for private space development in a week after SpaceX’s Starship rocket spectacularly exploded minutes after liftoff from its launch pad.

A private firm has yet to succeed in a lunar landing. Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and China have soft-landed spacecraft on the Moon, with attempts by India and a private Israeli company failing in recent years.

Shares in Espace, which delivers payloads such as rovers to the moon and sells related data, were untraded Wednesday morning but signaled a decline in their daily range. The stock made its debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange just two weeks ago and has since doubled in value.

Japan’s top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said that while the mission remained incomplete, the country wanted Space to “keep trying” because its efforts were important to the development of the domestic space industry.

Japan, which has set a goal of sending Japanese astronauts to the moon by the late 2020s, has suffered some recent setbacks. The National Space Agency last month had to destroy its new medium-lift H3 rocket upon reaching space after its second-stage engine failed to ignite. Its solid-fuel Epsilon rocket also failed after launch in October.

Breaks on a ski slope

Four months after launching from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket, the M1 lander appeared set to touch down autonomously at around 12:40 a.m. Eastern Time (1640 GMT Tuesday), with an animation based on live telemetry data showing that it had arrived. Is going. Close to 90 meters (295 feet) from the lunar surface.

By the expected touchdown time, mission control had lost contact with the lander and engineers appeared anxious on the live stream as they awaited confirmation of its fate signal that never came.

“Our engineers will continue to investigate the situation,” Hakmada said. “At this moment, what I can tell you is that we are very proud of the fact that we have achieved many things during this Mission 1.”

The lander has completed eight out of 10 mission objectives in space which will provide valuable data for the next landing attempt in 2024, he added.

About an hour before the planned touchdown, the 2.3-meter-tall M1 began its descent phase, gradually tightening its orbit around the Moon from 100 km (62 mi) to about 25 km above the surface, traveling at about 6,000 km/h (3,700 mph ) traveled at a speed of ).

At such speeds, decelerating the lander to the proper speed against the pull of the Moon’s gravity is like applying the brakes on a bicycle at the edge of a ski-jumping slope, said Chief Technology Officer Ryo Uji.

The craft was aiming for a landing site on the edge of Mare Frigoris in the moon’s northern hemisphere where it would deploy a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, TOMY Co Ltd ( 7867.T ). Sony Group Corp (6758.T). It also planned to deploy a four-wheeled rover named Rashid from the United Arab Emirates.

The lander was carrying an experimental solid-state battery made by Niterra Co Ltd ( 5334.T ) among other devices to measure their performance on the Moon.

The mission was insured by Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co., an MS&AD Insurance Group ( 8725.T ) unit, and ispace said it may receive some compensation.

Reporting by Kentaro Komiya; Editing by Chang-Ren Kim and Stephen Coates

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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