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HAKUTO-R M1: Japanese Lunar Lander’s Potential Crash Landing

An illustration of the lander.

Tokyo-based ispace's HAKUTO-R M1 lunar lander suffers communication loss, raising concerns of a crash landing on the Moon.

A recent attempt by Tokyo-based company ispace to land their HAKUTO-R M1 lunar lander on the Moon’s surface may have ended in a crash landing, marking a setback in the race for the first private Moon landing. The loss of communication during the crucial landing phase echoes past failures by other organizations.

A Tense Moment in Lunar Exploration

The HAKUTO-R M1 lunar lander appeared to be on track for a successful landing, potentially making history as the first private Moon landing. However, the situation turned tense when the control room livestream was interrupted without any updates on the landing status.

Upon resuming the livestream, ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada confirmed that communication with the lander had been lost at the “very end” of the landing attempt. The company now has to assume an unsuccessful landing and continues to investigate the situation.

Echoes of Past Moon Landing Failures

This incident is reminiscent of the 2019 Israeli Moon lander, Beresheet, operated by nonprofit SpaceIL. A communications loss indicated the crash landing after the spacecraft’s engine failed during descent. Later that year, India’s first attempt at a lunar landing met a similar fate.

Landing on celestial bodies is a complex and high-stakes endeavor, as explained by Robert Braun, an engineer who has worked on NASA missions to Mars. With little room for error and a series of intricate commands to execute, landers must contend with challenging factors such as irregular gravity, uneven terrain, and lunar dust.

HAKUTO-R’s Mission and Payload

The HAKUTO-R lander was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on December 11 and entered lunar orbit in late March. It carried payloads for various companies and governments, including the United Arab Emirates’ first lunar mission with the small Rashid rover. Additionally, a baseball-sized “transformable” robot from the Japanese space agency, JAXA, was on board, as reported by SpaceNews.

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