June 19, 2024

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Japanese astronaut loses contact with moon landing Hakuto R

A Japanese startup that had hoped to become the first commercial company to successfully land on the moon said it lost contact with its spacecraft on Tuesday, after a tense period during which it tried to reconnect with the lander.

The uncrewed Hakuto-R lander, made by Tokyo-based ispace, had descended from lunar orbit and was approaching the lunar surface when the controls on the ground lost contact with it around 12:40 p.m. Engineers continued to try to communicate with the spacecraft but said they feared the worst.

“We have to assume we can’t complete the moon landing,” Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of iSpace, said during the company’s live broadcast. “Our engineers will continue to investigate the situation. … At this moment what I can say is that we are very proud of the fact that we have already achieved many things during this mission.”

It was the latest in a series of failed robotic lunar landing missions. In 2019, a privately funded Israeli spacecraft crashed onto the moon, and later that year, an Indian spacecraft carrying a rover also failed in its attempt to land softly.

By the end of this year, two more companies — Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, both based in the US — are expected to attempt moon landings in partnership with NASA as part of the space agency’s Artemis program, as it seeks to begin building the infrastructure. for human landing.

The ispace mission began when the spacecraft launched from Florida in December aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It then took a circuitous trajectory to the Moon, before attempting a landing Tuesday at Atlas crater in the moon’s northeastern quadrant. While leaders in the company expressed confidence that their spacecraft would land successfully, they acknowledged the difficulty of landing on the Moon and recent failed attempts by others.

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The Hakuto-R mission grew out of the Google Lunar X Prize, a failed attempt to encourage private sector efforts to send spacecraft to the Moon. After the contest was dissolved without a winner, ispace kept its program going.

Its spacecraft was carrying a 22-pound rover developed by the United Arab Emirates, which was the first Arab mission to the Moon. Also on board was a three-inch animatronic robot developed by the Japanese space agency and a Japanese toy company that was to take pictures while on the moon.

NASA was not involved in the mission, but ispace said it hopes to partner with the space agency in the future through its US subsidiary, which is based in Denver.

In the coming years, NASA plans to build a sustainable presence on and around the Moon and eventually send astronauts to the Moon’s south pole to search for water in the form of ice in the permanently shaded craters there. It also intends to assemble a small space station in lunar orbit, known as Gateway.

China is also looking at the moon. In 2019, it became the first country to land a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon. It plans to send astronauts to the lunar south pole.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the United States, which is effectively prohibited by law from cooperating with China in space, is engaged in a space race with China. At a congressional hearing last week, he warned that the United States needed to get its astronauts to the moon before China.

“If you let China get there first, what’s to stop them from saying, ‘We’re here. This is our territory. You stay out. That’s why I think it’s important for us to get there on an international mission and set the rules of the road.'”

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