Ispace, a Japanese start-up, has failed in its attempt to carry out the first private moon landing. The Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) lander lost contact and is believed to have crashed on the lunar surface. The cause of the failure is unknown, but the startup has suggested that the lander’s altitude measurement system miscalculated the distance to the surface, causing it to fall towards the moon as it ran out of fuel to power its thrusters.
Second Setback for Private Space Development
The failure of Ispace’s mission is the latest setback for the commercial space sector. Last week, SpaceX’s Starship rocket spectacularly exploded shortly after take-off. Private companies have yet to succeed in landing on the moon, with only the US, former Soviet Union, and China having achieved the feat. India and a private Israeli firm have also failed in recent attempts.
Ispace, which delivers payloads to the moon and sells related data, had only recently been listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and had seen its share price rise seven-fold. However, after news of the failed mission, there was a glut of sell orders, and the stock finished down 20%.
Japan’s Space Industry
Despite the disappointment, Japan’s government has urged Ispace to keep trying, as the company’s efforts are significant to the development of the country’s space industry. Japan has set itself a goal of sending Japanese astronauts to the moon by the late 2020s. However, recent setbacks have included the national space agency’s new medium-lift H3 rocket failing to ignite its second-stage engine and the failure of the solid-fuel Epsilon rocket after launch in October.
Ispace’s Mission Objectives
The M1 lander completed eight out of 10 mission objectives in space, which will provide valuable data for the next landing attempt in 2024. The lander had been launched four months before on a SpaceX rocket and was expected to touch down autonomously at around 1:40 am Japan time. The craft aimed to land at the edge of Mare Frigoris in the moon’s northern hemisphere, where it would have deployed two rovers developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tomy and Sony, and another from the United Arab Emirates. The lander was carrying an experimental solid-state battery made by Niterra, among other devices to gauge their performance on the moon. The mission was insured by Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, and Ispace may receive some compensation.