The Earth rises above the surface of the moon, as seen from the company’s lander in lunar orbit in April 2023.
Japanese lunar exploration company ispace attempted to land its first cargo mission on the moon on Tuesday, but lost communication with the spacecraft and has deemed the attempt unsuccessful, CEO Takeshi Hakamada said.
“We have not been able to confirm a successful landing on the lunar surface,” Hakamada said, speaking from Tokyo, Japan.
“We are very proud of the fact that we have achieved many things during this Mission 1,” Hakamada added. “We will keep going — never quit the lunar quest.”
The Tokyo-based company’s Mission 1 lunar lander was aiming to softly touch down around 12:40 p.m. ET in the Atlas Crater, which is in the northeastern sector of the moon. The company’s uncrewed mission carried scientific research and other payloads. There were no people on board.
The landing would have made ispace the first private entity to complete the feat. But the company lost communication with the lander at “the very end” of the landing attempt, Hakamada noted, and was not able to re-establish connection. The company’s team is investigating the situation.
“We have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface,” Hakamada said.
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Founded more than a decade ago, ispace originated as a team competing for the Google Lunar Xprize under the name Hakuto – after a mythological Japanese white rabbit. After the Xprize competition was canceled, ispace pivoted and expanded its goals, with Hakamada aiming to create “an economically viable ecosystem” around the moon, he said in a recent interview.
The company has grown steadily as it worked toward this first mission, with over 200 employees around the world – including about 50 at its U.S. subsidiary in Denver. Additionally, ispace has steadily raised funds from a wide variety of investors, bringing in $237 million to date through a mixture of equity and debt. The investors of ispace include the Development Bank of Japan, Suzuki Motor, Japan Airlines and Airbus Ventures.
Technicians complete final preparations for launch on the company’s Mission 1 lander.
The ispace Mission 1 lander was carrying small rovers and payloads for a number of government agencies and companies – including from the U.S., Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
Before the launch, ispace outlined 10 milestones for the mission. The company had completed eight milestones prior to Tuesday, with the ninth representing a successful soft-landing on the surface and the 10th representing the establishment of stable communications with the Earth, as well steady power supply, after the landing.
The milestones demonstrate the complexity and difficulty of ispace’s mission, as it aims to complete a feat previously accomplished only by global superpowers. A previous private lunar mission, flown by Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL and also born out of the Google Lunar Xprize, crashed into the surface during an attempted landing in April 2019.
“We have an opportunity to get an improvement in the second mission and the third mission, and this is our advantage to accelerate our speed of development and make sure the next mission we have much higher maturity of the technology,” Hakamada told CNBC after the Mission 1 landing attempt.
The company hoped for this to be the first of multiple missions to the moon. Last year ispace won a $73 million NASA contract as part of a team led by Massachusetts-based Draper to fly cargo to the moon’s surface in 2025 under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
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Correction: This story has been updated to correct that ispace had completed eight goals associated with its lunar mission prior to an attempt to land cargo on the surface of the moon Tuesday. An earlier version of this story misstated the goals and the company’s progress.