Commercial Moon Landing Attempt Failed: What Happened To The Lunar Craft?

The long-awaited attempt to land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon seems to have failed, with the fate of the Hakuto-R Mission left buried in confusion and uncertainty. 

The Japanese startup ispace launched its M1 lunar lander hoping that it would pave the way for commercial trips to the Moon. But in the final moments of the mission, the craft lost communication with the control centre in Tokyo seconds before it was due to touch down.

So, what exactly happened to the Hakuto-R Mission? The New York Times reports that no communication means that no one currently knows if the M1 craft crashed, malfunctioned, or is simply lost in space. 

ispace And Its Hakuto-R Mission

Founded in 2010 by Takeshi Hakamada, ispace is a space resource exploration company headquartered in Tokyo, with operations in the United States and Europe. 

This first mission was launched by ispace as part of the company’s commercial lunar exploration programme known as Hakuto-R. This mission aimed to perform a soft landing on the Moon. It was set to be the first privately-led Japanese mission to land on the lunar surface. 

The Series 1 Lander, also known as the M1 Lander or the Lunar Lander, was developed to be small, lightweight and perfectly crafted for space exploration. M1 was launched December 11th 2022 from Cape Canaveral in Florida and its total mission was set to take 3 to 5 months in total. 

In March of this year, M1 entered the lunar orbit and prepared for descent to the surface of the Moon. In April, the lander’s onboard camera sent back a photo it took of the surface of the Moon from an altitude of around 100km.

But on April 25th, after being in orbit for 4 months, the lander began its descent to the lunar surface and suddenly lost all communication with the ground crew while to passed the far side of the Moon. 

The M1 lander was expected to land on the surface of the Moon an hour later, but the conclusion is that M1 was left unable to complete its mission – so, what went wrong?

What Went Wrong In The Lunar Landing?

“At this time, our Mission Control Center in Tokyo has not been able to confirm the success of the lander,” stated an ispace spokesperson.

“We have to assume that we did not complete the landing… Our engineers will continue to investigate the situation.”

ispace has issued a formal statement saying that, although there was a loss of communication, “there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon’s surface.”

“Although we do not expect to complete the lunar landing at this time, 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. 

“To this end, we are already developing Mission 2 and Mission 3 concurrently and have prepared a foundation that can maintain this continuity.” 

So, whilst M1 failed to complete its mission as planned, ispace seems to remain confident in its grander plans for the eventual settlement of humanity on the Moon.

ispace’s Vision Of The Future: Dreams Of ‘Moon Valley’

The space exploration company believes that life on Earth in the future will not be sustainable without satellite-based space infrastructure. ispace has turned its attention to the Moon and believes that extraterrestrial infrastructure on the lunar planet could help to enrich our daily lives on Earth.

The goal of ispace is to make Earth and Moon one system – a new economy with space infrastructure that will support human life, finally making sustainability for humanity a reality. 

This commercial landing on the Moon was one of the first major steps in getting humanity to the Moon so that we may begin to build up a civilisation there – something ispace predicts will be a fully functioning city by 2040 and which they have already named ‘Moon Valley’. 

But if a city of people is going to have pitched up on Mars in just twenty years’ time, it is an increasing worry that no commercial flights to the lunar planet have become operational.

The Hakuto-R Mission would have marked a historic stepping stone in making the dream of life outside of Earth possible. After this first mission, the next step of ispace will be the launch of its second mission – set to take place in 2024 – which will be another soft landing where rovers will be deployed for surface exploration and data collection on the Moon.

The third mission of the Hakuto-R exploration programme will see the frequency of lunar landings and rover expeditions to transport customer payloads increase to enable the steady development of industry and human presence on the Moon.

However, the failure of this first mission will inevitably push back the progress of Hakuto-R and the promise of a sustainable future for humanity away from Earth. The problems encountered by ispace highlight the difficulties of space exploration – the US, the former Soviet Union and China are the only countries to have successfully completed a soft Moon landing. 

Nonetheless, it seems ispace has refused to let their spirits be dampened. Hakamada has assured the press that the team will “never quit” at achieving their space exploration goals, so perhaps ispace really will turn their promise of ‘Moon Valley’ into a tangible reality within our lifetimes.