May 28, 2024
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Flight data analysis confirms ispace’s Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander crash-landed due to landing stage fuel shortage

The ispace Hakuto-R Mission 1 (Hakuto-R M1) lunar lander that crash-landed on the lunar surface on April 26, 2023 had run out of fuel for its propulsion system after the spacecraft’s altitude measurement system erroneously estimated the altitude of the small sedan-sized lander to be zero (on the lunar surface) when in effect the spacecraft was still at an altitude of about 5km above the lunar surface.

According to newly released flight data of the ill-fated lunar lander by operations specialists at ispace’s Mission Control Centre in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, the lander had successfully completed its entire deceleration process from an altitude of approximately 100km above the lunar surface on April 26; slowing to the target speed of less than 1m/s in a vertical position at an altitude of approximately 5km above the lunar surface.

The Hakuto-R Mission 1 has successful completed eight of the mission’s 10 milestones. Credit: ispace

However, an anomaly in the lander’s altitude measurement system due to a software glitch ruined the controlled descent of the lander – causing the propulsion system to run out of fuel – and free-fall to the lunar surface fragmenting on impact.

Primarily a technology demonstration lander, and although unsuccessful in achieving a soft-landing on the lunar surface the Hakuto-R Mission 1 by ispace, the global lunar exploration company, has made history as the world’s first commercial Moon-landing mission endeavour.

Hakuto-R means ‘white rabbit’ in Japanese. According to Japanese folklore a white rabbit lives on the Moon.

Commercial payload

The roughly 1,000kg lunar lander was carrying a combined 30kg commercial and government payload from NASA, the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The two lunar terrain autonomous vehicles onboard – the UAE’s 10kg Rashid rover and the 0.25kg Japanese lunar excursion vehicle – are presumed irreversibly damaged in the lander’s uncontrolled descent to the lunar surface.

The Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander crash site as photographed by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the day after the attempted soft landing. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University

On April 27, 2023, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft acquired several black and white images of the Hakuto-R M1 crash site that show at least four prominent pieces of debris of the lander and its payload. NASA aims to further analyse the crash site over the coming months as the LRO will make additional observations of the site under various lighting conditions and viewing angles.

CGI of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA

4-month journey to the Moon

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried the Hakuto-R M1 lunar lander to space from the SLC-40 launchpad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, on December 11, 2022. The launch was initially set for November 30, 2022, and then postponed to December 1, 2022 to allow SpaceX time to perform additional pre-flight checks of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

A full-scale model of the UAE’s Rashid lunar rover exhibited at the International Astronautical Congress 2021 exhibition in Dubai, UAE. Credit: Arnold Pinto

According to ispace, although the octagonal prism-shaped lander did not complete a soft landing, the cause of the crash has been identified and improvements are being incorporated into the Hakuto-R Missions 2 and 3 scheduled for 2024 and 2025 respectively.

A full-scale model of the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander was exhibited at the ispace stand at the International Astronautical Congress 2021 exhibition in Dubai, UAE.

Commenting on the flight data analysis of the Hakuto-R M1, Takeshi Hakamada, Founder and CEO of ispace, said: “Mission 1 demonstrated a great deal of technical reliability, as our lander reached the lunar surface just prior to landing. Now, we have been able to identify the issue during the landing and have a very clear picture of how to improve our future missions.

‘Never Quit the Lunar Quest’

“We have already begun work on Mission 2 and Mission 3. We will ensure that the valuable knowledge gained from Mission 1 will lead us to the next stage of evolution. We believe that this is our commitment and our duty to all our stakeholders – Never Quit the Lunar Quest – in this spirit, we will continue to move forward.”

(L-R) CGI of Hakuto-R Missions 1-3. Credit: ispace

First scheduled for 2022, the Hakuto-R M1 was designed to perform a soft landing on the Moon, to be followed in 2024 by the Hakuto-R M2 performing a soft landing and deploying a rover for lunar surface exploration. From Hakuto-R M3 and beyond, ispace expects to increase the frequency of its lunar landings and rover expeditions to transport commercial and government payloads to the Moon. The landers are expected to deploy swarms of rovers to the lunar surface for the development of lunar resources and to aid long-term human presence on the Moon.

Last Updated on 9 months by Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto

    Arnold Pinto is an award-winning journalist with wide-ranging Middle East and Asia experience in the tech, aerospace, defence, luxury watchmaking, business, automotive, and fashion verticals. He is passionate about conserving endangered native wildlife globally. Arnold enjoys 4x4 off-roading, camping and exploring global destinations off the beaten track.
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