(CNN) — A Japanese vehicle carrying a rover developed in the United Arab Emirates attempted to set foot on the lunar surface on Tuesday, but flight controllers on the ground were unable to immediately restore contact, prompting the rover company to speculate. Lost satellite.
It will be the world’s first lunar landing by a commercially developed spacecraft.
The probe, built by Japan’s iSpace, launched from Earth on a SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida on December 11 using a low-energy trajectory. In total, the lander’s journey covered about 870,000 miles (1.4 million kilometers) through space.
The landing was expected to occur at 12:40 pm (EST) on Tuesday, which is 1:40 am JST on Wednesday.
Minutes passed as the mission control team worked to restore contact with the vehicle after an expected communications breakdown. About 20 minutes after the scheduled landing time, iSpace CEO Takeshi Hakamada gave an update.
“We cannot confirm a successful landing. We have to assume that we cannot complete the landing on the moon. Our engineers are constantly investigating the situation,” he said.
He said his team was able to collect data from the rover up to its attempted landing, a “huge achievement” that could help inform future iSpace missions.
The lunar lander, named Hakuto-R, was carrying the Rashid lander built by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates – the first Arab spacecraft on the moon.
In history, only three countries have carried out controlled landings on the Moon – the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. America is the only country to land men on the moon.
Japan’s iSpace has taken a different approach from previous lunar missions, trying to land its spacecraft on the moon as a non-profit business rather than under the banner of a country.
The company shared mission updates on its Twitter account, including a recent photo of Earth looking behind the moon captured by the spacecraft as it moved into lunar orbit.
The Lunar Exploration Agency was preparing for accidents. If successful, the 22-pound (10-kilogram) Rashid rover is expected to leave the lunar lander and spend “much of a 14-day lunar day exploring the Moon’s northeast Atlas crater,” according to the European Space Agency.
The European Space Agency said, “The Rashid probe is equipped with a high-resolution camera on the forward mast, another camera on the back, a microscopic camera and a thermal imaging camera. It also carries a Langmuir probe. The plasma environment just above the lunar surface.”
Japan’s iSpace is one of several companies competing in the Google Lunar XPrize, which offers a $20m reward to the company that puts a robotic rover on the moon, travels 2,000 feet and sends data back to Earth.
NASA has selected four astronauts for the first mission to send humans to the moon in 50 years.
The competition from Google was canceled in 2018 – but iSpace was among the companies that chose to continue the work.
Israel-based SpaceIL was the first XPrize contender to try to put a lander on the moon after the project was completed. Its Beresheet spacecraft crashed in 2019 after the crew lost contact during landing.
In the same year, the Indian Space and Research Organization lost contact with the lunar lander shortly before it was scheduled to land on the lunar surface. Communications with the spacecraft were never restored, and images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter later revealed the crash site and the mission’s final destination.
Recovering lunar soil samples on behalf of NASA is part of iSpace’s future plans — its Artemis program includes the use of commercial lunar landers to explore the lunar surface.
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