Tokyo company loses contact with moon lander in likely crash

A Japanese company's attempt to land a spacecraft on the moon has apparently failed.

Moon Japan UAE

A model of the lander of HAKUTO-R private lunar exploration program is displayed prior to livestream of the lunar landing event Wednesday, April 26, 2023, at Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, in Tokyo. Tokyo's ispace company put its own spacecraft into orbit around the moon a month ago. Flight controllers will direct the craft, named Hakuto, Japanese for white rabbit, to descend from 60 miles (100 kilometers) high and land on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

A Japanese company lost contact with its spacecraft moments before touchdown on the moon Wednesday, saying the mission had apparently failed.

Communications ceased as the lander descended the final 33 feet (10 meters), traveling around 16 mph (25 kph). Flight controllers peered at their screens in Tokyo, expressionless, as the minutes went by with no word from the lander, which is presumed to have crashed.

“We have to assume that we could not complete the landing on the lunar surface,” said Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of the company, ispace.

If it had landed, the company would have been the first private business to pull off a lunar landing.

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Only three governments have successfully touched down on the moon: Russia, the United States and China. An Israeli nonprofit tried to land on the moon in 2019, but its spacecraft was destroyed on impact.

The 7-foot lander (2.3-meter) Japanese lander carried a mini lunar rover for the United Arab Emirates and a toylike robot from Japan designed to roll around in the moon dust. There were also items from private customers on board.

Named Hakuto, Japanese for white rabbit, the spacecraft had targeted Atlas crater in the northeastern section of the moon’s near side, more than 50 miles (87 kilometers) across and just over 1 mile (2 kilometers) deep.

Hakuto took a long, roundabout route to the moon following its December liftoff, beaming back photos of Earth along the way.

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