A Japanese startup appears to have failed in its effort to become the first to achieve a privately funded moon landing.
Tokyo-based ispace was attempting to land the Hakuto-R Series 1 lander on the surface of the moon at 9:40 p.m. PT on Tuesday, April 25 (1:40 a.m. on Wednesday, April 26, Tokyo time), but it lost contact with the vehicle at around that time.
“At this time, our Mission Control Center in Tokyo has not been able to confirm the success of the lander,” ispace tweeted about 90 minutes after it had hoped to set down the lander.
It added: “Our engineers and mission operations specialists in our Mission Control Center are currently working to confirm the current status of the lander.”
While the comments offered a glimmer of hope that the team may be able to establish contact with the lander, ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said during a webcast that “we have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface.”
The mission, which began with a launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida in December, had planned to deploy two small rovers on the lunar surface: the Sora-Q for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the Rashid, built by the United Arab Emirates space agency.
But the main purpose of the effort was so that ispace could demonstrate its ability to successfully deliver a lander to the moon. Now, though, it looks as if it’ll have to return to the drawing board.
Successfully putting a lander on the moon would not only have marked the first time for a privately funded effort to achieve such a feat, but would also have put Japan alongside only three other countries in achieving a successful lunar landing, with only the U.S., China, and the former Soviet Union have already done so.
NASA has inked a deal with ispace to help it land commercial payloads on the moon in future missions and another that includes collecting a sample of lunar soil.
The U.S. space agency has yet to comment on the apparent failure of the Hakuto-R mission, and if it will have any impact on the planned missions with ispace.
Ispace was founded in 2010 and later became a finalist in the Google-sponsored Lunar X Prize, a contest that encouraged participants to become the first privately funded team to put a robot on the moon.
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