ispace moon touchdown: CEO assumes lander crash
Earth rises above the lunar surface as seen from the company’s lander in lunar orbit in April 2023.
Japanese lunar exploration company ispace attempted to land its first cargo mission on the moon on Tuesday, but lost communications with the spacecraft and deemed the attempt unsuccessful, CEO Takeshi Hakamada said.
“We have not been able to confirm a successful landing on the lunar surface,” said Hakamada from Tokyo, Japan.
“We are very proud that we have achieved many things during this Mission 1,” added Hakamada. “We will continue – never give up the search for the moon.”
The Tokyo-based company’s Mission 1 lunar lander aimed to land softly in Atlas Crater, located in the moon’s northeast sector, around 12:40 p.m. ET. The company’s unmanned mission carried scientific research and other payloads. There were no people on board.
The landing would have made ispace the first private company to accomplish this feat. But the company lost communications with the lander “at the very end” of the attempt to land, Hakamada noted, and was unable to reconnect. The company’s team is investigating the situation.
“We have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface,” Hakamada said.
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Founded more than a decade ago, ispace originated as a team competing for the Google Lunar Xprize under the name Hakuto – after a mythological Japanese white rabbit. After the Xprize competition was canceled, ispace rotated and expanded its goals, with Hakamada aiming to create “an economically viable ecosystem” around the moon, he said in a recent interview.
The company has grown steadily while working towards this first mission, with over 200 employees around the world – including about 50 at its US subsidiary in Denver. In addition, ispace has consistently raised funds from a variety of investors, raising $237 million to date through a mix of equity and debt. ispace investors include Development Bank of Japan, Suzuki Motor, Japan Airlines and Airbus Ventures.
Technicians complete final preparations for launch of the company’s Mission 1 lander.
The ispace Mission 1 lander carried small rovers and payloads for a range of government agencies and companies – including those from the US, Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Before launch, ispace outlined 10 milestones for the mission. The company had achieved eight milestones before Tuesday, with the ninth representing a successful soft landing on the surface and the tenth representing the establishment of stable communications with Earth and stable power supply after landing.
The milestones demonstrate the complexity and difficulty of ispace’s mission as it aims to complete a feat previously only accomplished by global superpowers. A previous private lunar mission flown by the Israeli non-profit organization SpaceIL, also spawned from the Google Lunar Xprize, crashed to the surface while trying to land in April 2019.
The company hoped this would be the first of several missions to the moon. Last year, ispace won a $73 million NASA contract to be part of a team led by Massachusetts-based Draper to fly cargo to the lunar surface in 2025 under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
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Correction: This story has been updated to correct that ispace had achieved eight goals related to its lunar mission before attempting to land cargo on the moon’s surface on Tuesday. A previous version of this story misrepresented the company’s goals and progress.
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