The Japanese spacecraft carrying the UAE’s Rashid Rover to the Moon is believed to have made a hard landing on the lunar surface. In an update about the status of its HAKUTO-R Mission 1 (M1), Japan-based ispace said the communication between the lander and the mission control centre (MCC) has not been established yet, nearly eight hours after scheduled touchdown.

The seven-foot M1 had begun the landing sequence from a 100km orbit on Tuesday evening. With a scheduled touchdown time of 8.40pm UAE time, an animation based on live telemetry data suggested the landing had almost been completed when flight engineers lost communication with the M1.

Communication loss

Based on data currently available, the control centre in Tokyo confirmed that the lander was in a vertical position as it carried out the final approach to the lunar surface. “Shortly after the scheduled landing time, no data was received indicating a touchdown. Ispace engineers monitored the estimated remaining propellant reached at the lower threshold and, shortly afterward, the descent speed rapidly increased. After that, the communication loss happened. Based on this, it has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon’s surface,” the company said.

Ispace engineers are currently working on a detailed analysis of the telemetry date acquired until the end of landing sequence to find the root cause of the situation.

Data analysis

With this, the company now believes its key success milestone of successfully landing on the Moon and establishing communications is “no longer achievable”.

For Mission 1, ispace had set 10 milestones between launch and landing. The mission has achieved success 1 (launch) through success 8 (lunar orbit insertion).

“In addition, while attempting the completion of success 9 (lunar landing), the MCC was able to acquire valuable data and know-how from the beginning to nearly the end of the landing sequence, which will enable a future successful lunar landing mission,” the company said.

Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace, said the team does not expect to complete the lunar landing.

“We believe that we have fully accomplished the significance of this mission, having acquired a great deal of data and experience by being able to execute the landing phase. What is important is to feed this knowledge and learning back to Mission 2 and beyond so that we can make the most of this experience.”

M2 is the company’s next lunar landing mission scheduled for 2024.

Hiroshi Yamakawa, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said ispace has now become the first private company to attempt to land on the Moon. “Ispace will analyse the data obtained from this mission and use it as a foundation for the next mission.”

If successful, the company would have been the first private business to pull off a lunar landing.

Only the US, the former Soviet Union and China have soft-landed spacecraft on the Moon. Attempts in recent years by India and a private Israeli company were not successful.

Long route to the Moon

The M1 had lifted off on December 11 last year from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. It took a low-energy, four-month route to Moon rather than a direct approach.

It ventured out to deep space and back again on a sweeping trajectory designed to reduce the amount of fuel the spacecraft needs to carry.