TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese startup ispace Inc (9348.T) said it failed the Hakuto-R moon landing mission last month due to an altitude error that caused the spacecraft to run out of fuel.
The Tokyo-based spacecraft has lost contact with the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander after the spacecraft attempted what would have been the world’s first commercial soft landing on the moon.
This crash was the latest setback in the Japanese space program. The National Space Agency in March had to destroy its new H3 medium-lift rocket after it reached space, and the solid-fuel Epsilon rocket failed after its launch in October.
iSpace said that improvements will be made for the next two missions.
“With these two tasks, it is very important for us to increase our knowledge as much as possible to achieve stable marketing in the future,” Ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada told reporters at the Japan National Press Club.
While space exploration has been dominated by national space agencies in past decades, many private players are competing in a new space race between the United States and its allies versus an increasingly ambitious China.
NASA has relied on Elon Musk’s SpaceX to fly many of its payloads into orbit, and last week the agency awarded a moon landing contract to a team led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
After launching the Hakuto-R lander on a SpaceX rocket to great fanfare in December, ispace shares made their debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in April. But during its final descent stage in the early hours of April 26, ispace lost contact with the rover.
Shares in ispace rose to 2,373 yen, more than 9 times the IPO price, in the days after its debut. It crashed below 800 yen after the Hakuto-R failed, but has since recovered, recently trading at 1,748 yen ($12.94).
Images of debris and an impact crater at Hakuto R’s planned landing site were released this week by NASA, which has surveyed the area with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The ispace investigation showed that after the rover passed over a large lunar cliff, a glitch in the sensor software caused a discrepancy between the actual and expected altitude, and after running out of fuel, it dropped the last 5 kilometers (3 miles) to the lunar surface.
Rio Ogyi, ispace’s chief technology officer, told reporters he partly blamed ispace’s mission parameters and other settings on a software glitch, which was introduced by US aerospace developer Draper.
Yoji told reporters that the company changed its target landing site as late as seven months before attempting a landing, bypassing flat terrain that was chosen in 2021 for the newer site near a slope to “maximize the mission.” He declined to say when the change would be made.
“The change of landing site affected this problem,” Augie said. “We might have had a chance to land successfully on the Moon if we hadn’t changed that landing site, but it’s just a hypothesis.”
A second ispace mission is scheduled for 2024, and another M1 lander is slated to carry the company’s rover. As of 2025, the company is set to work with Draper to bring NASA payloads to the moon, with the goal of building a permanent lunar colony by 2040.
($1 = 135.0500 yen)
Additional reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Rocky Swift in Tokyo and Joy Roulette in Washington; Editing by Barbara Lewis, Simon Cameron-Moore and Matthew Lewis
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