A commercial lunar lander presumed lost after a historic lunar landing attempt

(CNN) A Japanese lunar lander, carrying a rover developed in the United Arab Emirates, attempted to find a foothold on the lunar surface on Tuesday — potentially marking the world’s first lunar landing for a commercially developed spacecraft. But flight controllers on the ground were unable to immediately restore contact, leading the company to assume the spacecraft was lost.

probe, Built by the Japanese company Ispace, Launched atop a SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Dec. 11. The spacecraft then made a three-month journey to enter orbit around the Moon, which lies about 239,000 miles (383,000 kilometers) from Earth, using a low-energy trajectory. Overall, the lander’s journey took about 870,000 miles (1.4 million km) through space.

The landing was expected to happen on Tuesday at 12:40 p.m. ET, which is Wednesday at 1:40 a.m. JST.

Minutes passed as the mission control team worked to restore contact with the vehicle after the expected communications outage. About 20 minutes after the planned landing time, Ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada gave an update.

“We have not been able to confirm a successful landing,” he said. “We have to assume … that we were unable to complete the lunar landing. Our engineers continue to investigate the situation.”

He added that his team was able to collect data from the vehicle up until the attempted landing, a “major achievement” that will help inform future Ispace missions.

The lunar probe, named Hakuto-R, was carrying the Rashid rover – the first Arab-made lunar spacecraft, which was built by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai.

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In history, only three countries have implemented a Controlled lunar landing – the United States, the former Soviet Union and China. The United States remains the only country to put humans on the moon.

The Japanese company Ispace took a different approach from previous lunar flights, trying to land its spacecraft on the moon as a for-profit business rather than under the banner of a single country.

The company shared mission updates on Twitter account, Including a recent image of Earth looking behind the Moon taken by the spacecraft as it moved through the Moon’s orbit.

The Lunar Exploration Company was preparing for accidents. “Recognizing the potential for an anomaly during the mission, the results will be weighed and evaluated against the criteria and included in future missions already in development between now and 2025,” the company noted on Dec. 11. mail.

If successful, the 22-pound (10-kilogram) Rosetta rover was expected to exit the lunar lander and spend “most of the 14-day lunar day exploring Atlas Crater in the northeast of the moon.” European Space Agencywhich helped design the rover’s wheels.

The European Space Agency said that “Rover Rashid is equipped with a high-resolution camera on the front mast and another mounted at the rear, in addition to a microscopic camera and a thermal imaging camera.” It also carries the Langmuir Probe to sample the prevailing plasma environment just above the lunar surface. “

Other moon landing attempts

Japan’s Ispace is one of several companies that competed in the Google Lunar XPrize, which offered a $20 million reward for the company that can put a robotic rover on the moon, travel 2,000 feet, and transmit data back to Earth.

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The Google-sponsored contest was canceled in 2018 — but Ispace was among the companies that chose to continue pursuing the mission.

Israel-based SpaceIL was the first XPrize contestant to attempt to put the lander on the moon after the program ended. Beresheet spacecraft has crashed In 2019 after the ground teams lost contact with the lander as it is Come closer Surface.

In the same year, the Indian Space and Research Organization disconnection With a lunar lander shortly before its scheduled landing on the lunar surface. Communication was with the spacecraft He did not recoverImages from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter later revealed the crash site and final resting place for the mission.

The mission to retrieve lunar soil samples on behalf of NASA’s Artemis program, which intends to use commercial lunar landers to explore the lunar surface, is part of Ispace’s future plans.

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