Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

 

 

That lost-to-the Moon robotic spacecraft, Japan’s Hakuto-R Mission1, has been spotted by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Click on image: Before and after comparison of the impact site. Arrow A points to a prominent surface change with higher reflectance in the upper left and lower reflectance in the lower right (opposite of nearby surface rocks along the right side of the frame). Arrows B-D point to other changes around the impact site Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The impact site of the run-amok lunar lander was produced on April 26 (Japan Standard Time) within the Mare Frigoris region on the Moon’s near side.

ispace artwork depicts lunar lander. Image credit: ispace

After the planned landing time, ground controllers received no communication from the mooncraft. The spacecraft was later presumed not to have made a successful touchdown.

Somber setting as ispace team grapples with loss of spacecraft. Image credit: ispace/Inside Outer Space screengrab

High-speed crash

Hakuto-R M1 was built by the commercial group, ispace, inc., and carried commercial and government payloads. It was launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster in December 2022.

Preliminary indications were that the spacecraft ran out of fuel high above the lunar landscape, went into free fall, smashing into the Moon at a speed that was not survivable.

 

 

NASA’s Moon-circuiting orbiter carries a powerful Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) system. That imaging hardware was used to unearth the lunar crash zone and led by LROC investigators at Arizona State University in Tempe.

LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) mosaic of the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander impact site made from five NAC image pairs. The blue cross marks the impact site. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

 

Hard landing

In a post-impact communiqué, ispace stated: “Based on the currently available data, the HAKUTO-R Mission Control Center in Nihonbashi, Tokyo, confirmed that the lander was in a vertical position as it carried out the final approach to the lunar surface. Shortly after the scheduled landing time, no data was received indicating a touchdown.”

According to the private group, ispace engineers monitored the estimated remaining propellant and shortly afterward the descent speed of the Moon lander rapidly increased. “After that, the communication loss happened. Based on this, it has been determined that there is a high probability that the lander eventually made a hard landing on the Moon’s surface,” the ispace statement added.

The group is now working on launching its second mission as part of the company’s commercial lunar exploration program.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

LRO is a Moon-circling veteran spacecraft launched on June 18, 2009. The orbiter has amassed a treasure trove of data with its seven powerful instruments and is a key player in appraising future Artemis crew landing spots.

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