Skip to main content

Japan admits defeat with its moonbound CubeSat

Japan has given up on trying to become the fourth country to reach the moon.

The nation sent its Omotenashi CubeSat into orbit aboard NASA’s SLS rocket last week when it launched the Orion spacecraft toward the moon in the Artemis I mission.

But after separating from the SLS rocket, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was unable to establish communication with the Omotenashi, preventing the CubeSat from attempting a lunar landing.

Mission leader Tatsuaki Hashimoto described the failure as “deeply regrettable,” Kyodo News reported.

After several days of trying to make contact with the CubeSat, JAXA finally admitted defeat on Tuesday, at the same time promising to launch an investigation to find out what went wrong. What we do know is that after separating from the rocket, Omotenashi’s solar cells failed to properly function.

The Omotenashi CubeSat is just 37 centimeters on its longest side and tips the scales at 27.8 pounds. The $5.6-million mission was supposed to demonstrate a relatively low-cost way of landing on and exploring the lunar surface. The CubeSat is designed to take measurements of the radiation environment close to the moon as well as on the lunar surface.

The technology included a cold gas thruster to enable the CubeSat to enter a lunar-impact orbit, and a solid rocket motor to help it reduce speed during the landing phase. Had the touchdown sequence played out as planned, the lander would have discarded the rocket and entered a free fall for about 100 meters. Just prior to impact with the lunar surface, the lander would have deployed a small airbag to reduce the force of the impact.

While Omotenashi will no longer be heading to the lunar surface, there’s still a chance that mission operators will be able to establish contact with the CubeSat next year when its solar panels face the sun. This will allow the team to download radiation measurements gathered during its time in space.

Only three countries have landed spacecraft on the moon — the U.S., Russia, and China. Japan is going to have to wait a little longer before it can add itself to the list.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite maneuver sends spacecraft on its way to lunar orbit
nasa cubesat lunar orbit capstone 2 1

NASA's CAPSTONE satellite is on its way to orbit around the moon, following a software issue that caused it to lose contact with Earth this week. Launched on June 28, NASA announced it was having communications issues with the satellite on July 5. Communications were re-established by July 6, and now the satellite has performed its first targeting maneuver.

The satellite is testing out an unusual orbit around the moon which could be used for the planned Gateway space station. Called a near rectilinear halo orbit, this curved orbit brings the satellite close to the moon at some times while being further away than others. Its advantage is that it requires very little energy to keep an object in the orbit, making it ideal for a space station. CAPSTONE's task is to test whether this orbit is a good potential orbit for the future station.

Read more
NASA completes prelaunch test of its mega moon rocket
NASA's SLS rocket on its way to the launchpad.

NASA has completed what may have been the final ground test of its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket before its much-anticipated maiden mission to the moon.

It comes after a failed attempt at the same so-called “wet dress rehearsal” in April, when a number of issues caused the test to be called off.

Read more
NASA confirms date for final test of its mega moon rocket
NASA's mega moon rocket on the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center.

NASA officials have confirmed Monday, June 20, as the date for the final pre-flight test of its next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.

The so-called “wet dress rehearsal” will take place on a launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center and involve engineers filling the boosters with fuel and performing a mock countdown, NASA confirmed in a call with reporters on Wednesday.

Read more