UAE Moon mission: Ground team loses contact with spacecraft carrying Rashid Rover; landing cannot be confirmed

Engineers and mission operations specialists are currently working to confirm the current status of the lander

By Sahim Salim, Nandini Sircar, Kirstin Bernabe

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Dubai Media Office
Dubai Media Office

Published: Tue 25 Apr 2023, 7:05 PM

Last updated: Wed 26 Apr 2023, 12:50 PM

[Editor's Note: This blog is now closed. Follow Khaleej Times for a more comprehensive report on the UAE's Moon-landing attempt.]

The UAE's Rashid Rover was just a few minutes away from landing on the Moon when the ground control team lost contact with the spacecraft it was travelling in.

Hakuto Mission 1 Lunar lander — which was carrying the Emirati-made rover — was supposed to land on the surface of the Moon at 8.40pm (UAE time). However, the Japan-based startup ispace said its control centre in Nihonbashi, Tokyo "has not been able to confirm the success of the lunar lander".

Communications ceased as the lander descended the final 33 feet (10 meters), travelling around 16 mph (25 kph). Flight controllers peered at their screens in Tokyo, expressionless, as the minutes went by with no word from the lander.

"Now, ispace engineers and mission operations specialists in the Mission Control Center are currently working to confirm the current status of the lander. Further information on the status of the lander will be announced as it becomes available," the company said.

Did you know these missions have a success rate of only 50%?

Landing a rover on the Moon is no walk in the park. It’s a very challenging task due to several reasons, which includes gravity, lack of atmosphere, regolith and communication.

In fact, only 50 per cent of lunar landings succeed.

Here are some factors that make these missions extra challenging:

  • The moon's gravity is about one-sixth of Earth's gravity, which makes it difficult to land and control the spacecraft's movements.
  • The lack of atmosphere on the moon makes it difficult to slow down the spacecraft during descent.
  • The surface of the moon is covered in a layer of fine dust called regolith, which can be up to several meters deep in some areas. This dust can be difficult to navigate and can pose a risk to the spacecraft's engines and landing gear.
  • There is also the challenge of communicating with the spacecraft during the landing process. The signal takes about 1.28 seconds to travel from the moon to Earth, which means that there is a delay in communication. This delay can make it difficult to make real-time adjustments to the spacecraft's trajectory during the landing process.

All of these factors make lunar landing a complex and difficult task that requires careful planning, precise engineering, and skilled execution.

Here's how the landing attempt unfolded:

9.32pm: 'Can't confirm successful landing'

Dubai's MBRSC issues a statement about the Moon mission status:

9.20pm: What ispace says

ispace founder Hakamada explained the circumstances with a forlorn look, saying their engineers are continuing to investigate.

In Tokyo, controllers peered at their screens, expressionless, as the minutes went by with still no word from the lander.

"Currently, we have not confirmed a communication with the lander. We can confirm that we had established communication until the very end of the landing. However, now, we have lost the communication. So, we have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface. Our engineers continue to investigate the situation and we will update you with further information once we finish the investigation," Hakamada said.

9.10pm: No contact with lander

Japan-based ispace has lost contact with its lander carrying the UAE's Rashid Rover.

"We have to assume that we could not complete the landing," says Takeshi Hakamada founder and CEO at ispace. “However, we are continuing to investigate.”

Flight controllers peered at their screens in Tokyo, expressionless, as the minutes went by with still no word from the lander.

9.05pm: Anxiety peaks

Here's the scene inside the ground control station at the MBRSC, where teams continue to wait for a signal

9.02pm: Tension builds up

As per the planned landing sequence, the lander should have touched down on the Moon by now. However, its status is still being investigated. Tension builds up as ground teams continue to wait for updates.

8.58pm: Still waiting

Lander status still being investigated. Ground teams continue to wait.

8.36pm: First glimpse of the Moon!

As the lander gets closer to the surface, it showed Earth its first glimpse of the Moon's craters.

Here's the clip:

8.31pm: Lander reappears

The lander carrying Rashid Rover has reappeared. UAE now minutes away from landing on moon.

Braking burn phase begins. It's at 25km altitude.

8.27pm: Recap

Here’s a recap of what’s going to happen before TOUCHDOWN is officially declared:

  • Cruise landing phase (Now happening) | Velocity: 6,000kmph / Altitude: 25km
  • Braking burn phase | Velocity: 380kmph / Altitude: 3km
  • Pitch-up phase | Velocity: 120kmph/ Altitude: 1km
  • Terminal descent | Velocity: 17kmph / Altitude 20m
  • Touchdown!

8.22pm: Last few minutes!

In about 10 minutes — braking burn should begin. The altitude is getting closer to reaching the 25km mark from the surface.

8.17pm: By the way, where EXACTLY will the lunar rover land?

Rashid Rover will be setting foot (or its wheels, rather) on the Moon’s Atlas crater, on the outer edge of Mare Frigoris (Sea of Cold).

Here's a cool map shared by the Dubai Media Office:

Why here? The site meets the technical specifications of the lander technology demonstration mission and the scientific exploration objectives for Emirates Lunar Mission. Besides, other previous missions — like the Apollo 15 and 17 — have successfully landed here. It’s a tried-and-tested route.

Check out the markings on this Nasa map:

8.08pm: Cruise landing phase begins

The lander is now in the second phase called the ‘Cruise Landing Phase’ — where the lander's altitude drops from 100km to 25km.

At this stage, the velocity doesn’t change much. This phase — the longest in the mission — lasts between 40 and 50 minutes in the entire sequence is an hour and seven minutes long.

8.05pm: Location check, where's the rover now?

The lander carrying the Rashid Rover is currently on the rear side of the Moon. Engineers are waiting to re-establish communication with the ground station and reappear from the rear side to finally land on the sunny side of the Moon.

7.58pm: Landing sequence in a nutshell

Currently orbiting the Moon on board the Hakuto-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander, the

Rashid Rover is expected to reach the lunar surface in 40 minutes.

It will be gearing for this five-point landing sequence:

7.48pm: One hour to go

Salem AlMarri, director-general of Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), tweets a countdown to the last 60 minutes before the UAE arrives on the Moon:


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