A private Japanese moon mission failed on Tuesday after communication with the spacecraft lost and the lander appeared to have crashed on the moon surface following a landing attempt. It was poised to become the first commercial space attempt to place a lander on the moon.
Communication was lost with Hakuto-R moments before it was due to touch down at approximately 16:40 GMT on Tuesday. Engineers are investigating what happened. The Tokyo-based iSpace had hoped the lander would release an exploratory rover, as well as a tennis ball-sized robot developed by a toymaker.
The craft was launched by a SpaceX rocket in December, and took five months to reach its destination.
Japanese startup ispace said the lander Hakuto -R Mission 1 hovered above the moon surface, slowing down to smoothly touch down after an engine cut-off. The mission control lost contact with the lander minutes before the landing time and could not re-establish communication with the lander after its expected landing time.
The United States, Russia and China are the only countries to have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface, all through government-sponsored programmes.
In 2019, Israel's Beresheet mission became the first attempt by a private company to land on the Moon. Its spacecraft managed to orbit the moon but was lost during the landing attempt.
The primary aim of the Japanese mission was to assess the viability of commercial launches to the lunar surface. It was the first test by iSpace of what they hope will be a series of commercial landers over the next few years, each more ambitious than the previous.
The company's vision is to provide commercial services for a sustained human presence on the lunar surface, such as sending up equipment for mining and producing rocket fuel.