Japanese lander carrying UAE’s Rashid Rover loses contact with spacecraft moments before touchdown

Engineers working to confirm the current status of the lander, says mission control at ispace

by

Nandini Sircar

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Picture used for illustrative purposes only.
Picture used for illustrative purposes only.

Published: Wed 26 Apr 2023, 12:17 AM

It was a sombre moment for the crew at the ground station in the Mission Control Centre (MCC) in Tokyo after communication with the Japanese lunar lander could not be re-established on Tuesday.

The seven-feet tall Japanese lander Hakuto-R Mission 1 carried a mini lunar rover weighing around 10kgs for the UAE, which was designed to roll out in the moon dust.

In a statement, ispace later said its engineers and mission operations specialists in the MCC 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 statement said.

Meanwhile, people across the world and especially in the UAE, who had tuned in to watch the live landing, waited with bated breath, feeling nail biting tension in the final moments ahead of the landing, which was in its final phase before the lander lost communication.

The lander had even changed its orientation as per plan to a vertical position pointing its thrusters straight down to the lunar surface indicating imminent success.

It was only moments away from the planned touchdown when all communication ceased as it descended the final 10 metres, travelling at a speed of around 25kph in what’s typically known as the ‘Terminal Descent Phase’.

It was palpably a disappointing and difficult moment for the team in Tokyo, who were waiting for news from the lander. They looked grave and expressionless as the uncertainty and lack of information seemed challenging to handle.

With pin drop silence in the room after communication with the lander could not be reinstated, Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO, ispace, said: “Our engineers at the MCC are continuing to investigate the current status of 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.”

If Hakuto-R Mission I had landed, the company would have been the first private business to pull off a lunar landing.

However, in a word of encouragement, Hakamada said that this mission is a step that will eventually be the starting point to reach newer targets and success in the future.

“At this moment, what I can say is that we are very proud of the fact that we have already achieved many things during this Mission I. We had secured the communication till the very end of the landing. That means we acquired actual flight details during the landing phase that is a great achievement for future missions… Mission II and Mission III," Hakamada said.

"To that end, it is important to understand what we learn from Mission I and Mission II and III. That’s why we built our sustainable business model to continue our efforts for future missions. I’d like to thank all the employees who’ve contributed to this mission since the beginning to the present. I thank our shareholders, partners and customers and everyone who believes in this vision. We will keep going, never quit the quest,” he added.

Meanwhile, it is no secret that only 50 per cent of lunar landings are successful, as was reiterated by experts at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) earlier. Lunar landing is considered to be a very challenging task due to several reasons, which include gravity, lack of atmosphere, regolith and communication. The lack of atmosphere on the moon, especially, makes it difficult to slow down the spacecraft during descent, often ending in crash landings. All of these factors make landing on the lunar surface a complex and difficult task.

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