Japan's ispace says spacecraft carrying UAE's Rashid rover probably crashed on Moon

Mission control lost contact with module during lunar landing attempt

A model of the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, which is thought to have crashed on the surface of the Moon. EPA
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Japan's ispace says its spacecraft that was carrying the UAE's Rashid rover probably crashed as it tried to land on the Moon on Tuesday.

Mission control in Tokyo lost contact with the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander moments before touchdown was expected.

Early on Wednesday, ispace said that its engineers were still investigating what had happened.

“Based on the currently available data, the Hakuto-R Mission Control Center in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, confirmed that the lander was in a vertical position as it carried out the final approach to the lunar surface,” it said.

“Shortly after the scheduled landing time, no data was received indicating a touchdown.”

The company said the remaining propellent in the spacecraft was decreasing during the landing attempt and shortly afterwards the descent speed rapidly increased.

This could suggest that the spacecraft ran out of fuel during the attempted touchdown, causing the engines to shut down and the lander to crash on the Moon's surface.

“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,” ispace said.

Japan's ispace loses contact with lunar lander

Japan's ispace loses contact with lunar lander
Japan's ispace loses contact with lunar lander

It was ispace's first Moon mission. It was carrying payloads from the UAE and other countries.

The Rashid rover was the first mission under the UAE's long-term Moon exploration programme. Emirati engineers are already working on a second rover.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre thanked ispace for its efforts.

“While the Rashid rover and other payloads onboard the lander did not get a chance to continue on their respective missions, the team at MBRSC is still proud of the achievements, including developing a rover and becoming the first Emirati and Arab lunar mission to enter the Moon's orbit,” it said.

Salem Al Marri, director general of the space centre, had told The National that his team had developed many new skills, despite what the outcome of the landing attempt would be.

“My feelings are that you know, regardless of what happens, I believe that we've succeeded already because we built a very strong team — a team that's capable of building missions that can work on the lunar surface,” he said.

“When you build a mission like that, it's not only about engineering. It's about all of the science, operations, command and control and all of those elements. We've managed to build those in-house and develop a rover built here in the UAE.”

A team of 11 engineers at the space centre had been working on the Rashid rover since 2017, hoping that the UAE would become the first Arab nation to place a spacecraft on the surface of another celestial body.

Ispace was also expecting to make history by becoming the first private company to complete a mission to the lunar surface.

The company has said that its business plan supports a second and third mission.

“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,” said founder Takeshi Hakamada.

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Updated: April 26, 2023, 9:43 AM