The Hakuto R lander, built by Tokyo-based iSpace, was to be a commercial mission to the Moon, but it has yet to phone home on landing day.
(April 26th): iSpace has released a statement acknowledging the loss of the mission, noting that although final telemetry from Hakuto R showed the lander in a vertical position on final approach, the descent speed increased rapidly in the final seconds. The company concludes, “There is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon's surface.”
The lunar lander dubbed Hakuto R, built by the Tokyo-based company iSpace, fell silent at around 12:40 p.m. EDT (16:40 UT) — right around the time it was heading for Atlas Crater on the Moon. Mission controllers are investigating, but there is only a small chance that the lander could power up its high gain antenna and contact Earth.
ispace developed its Hakuto R lander as part of the Google Lunar XPrize competition to land on the Moon. Although the 2018 deadline passed unclaimed, ispace continued to develop the lander. Another X Prize legacy, the Beresheet lander built by Isreal-based SpaceIL, crashed on the lunar surface in early 2019.
AMSAT-DL is broadcasting a feed of the deep space scan for the signal live. Hakuto means ‘white rabbit’ in Japanese, an animal often associated with the Moon in east Asian mythology.
The landing was set for today, April 25th, and ispace carried the landing live:
Hakuto R's landing site was to be in Atlas Crater, which is located on the lunar nearside near Mare Frigoris. The European Space Agency’s Tracking Station Network (ESTRACK) was providing critical tracking assets dedicated to the mission.
The Long Path to the Moon
The mission took the slow route to the Moon; Hakuto R launched with NASA’s Lunar Flashlight orbiter atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral on December 11, 2022. First in a geostationary transfer orbit, the mission gradually raised its orbit through a series of small engine burns until it was eventually captured in orbit around the Moon. The mission entered lunar orbit on March 21st.
“Our mission is commercial in nature, carrying payloads for customers,” said Andrew Ames (ispace). “We reduced fuel capacity to increase payload space to carry more customer payloads. To do this we planned a fuel efficient trajectory that took approximately 5 months to travel from Earth to the Moon.”
Before landing, Hakuto R sent us an image of Earth rising over the lunar limb, taken on April 20th during last week’s rare hybrid annular-total eclipse. The image shows the tiny black dot of the Moon’s shadow crossing near Australia:
The Hakuto R lander was a proof-of-concept mission for ispace. The solar-powered mission was expected to function for 14 days, from lunar sunrise to sunset, with landing set to coincide with local sunrise. But even if the mission was a loss on landing, it accomplished eight out of its 10 objectives, right up through insertion and operation in lunar orbit.
Hakuto R would have carried several payloads to the lunar surface, including the United Arab Emirates National Space Programme’s Rashid rover. The 10-kilogram (22 pound) rover carried cameras and Langmuir probes, designed to study surface dust and local plasma properties on the lunar surface.
Two Canadian companies, Canadensys Aerospace and Mission Control Space Services, provided imaging instruments and services for Hakuto R. Also onboard was Japan’s SORA Q, a small transformer robot. This unique, baseball-shape rover was equipped with a camera. Finally, the lander carried a disk with the song Sorato by the Japanese rock band Sakanaction.
The company ispace plans to send a second lander to the Moon, perhaps as early as 2024.