Altitude miscalculation caused Japan’s Hakuto-R Moon lander to crash, says start-up

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TOKYO – Japanese start-up ispace’s failed Hakuto-R Moon landing mission in April was caused by an altitude miscalculation that meant the spacecraft ran out of fuel, the company said on Friday.

Tokyo-based ispace lost connection with the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander after the spacecraft attempted what would have been the world’s first commercial soft-landing on the Moon’s surface.

The crash was the latest setback in Japan’s space programme. The national space agency in March had to destroy its new medium-lift H3 rocket after it reached space, and its solid-fuel Epsilon rocket failed after launch in October.

Improvements would be made for the next two missions, ispace said.

“Through these two missions, it is very important for us to increase our knowledge as much as possible to achieve stable commercialisation in the future,” ispace chief executive Takeshi Hakamada told reporters at the Japan National Press Club.

Whereas national space agencies dominated space exploration in decades past, numerous private players are competing in a new space race between the United States and its allies versus an increasingly ambitious China.

Nasa has relied on billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX to carry many of its payloads into orbit. Last week, the agency awarded a lunar lander contract to Blue Origin, led by another billionaire, founder Jeff Bezos.

Photos of debris and an impact crater at the Hakuto-R’s intended landing site were released this week by Nasa, which scanned the area with its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

An ispace investigation showed that after the vehicle passed over a large lunar cliff, a sensor software glitch caused a discrepancy between its actual and expected altitude, and after its fuel ran out, it plummeted the last 5km to the Moon’s surface.

A second ispace mission is scheduled in 2024, with another M1 lander due to ca...

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