A private Japanese moon lander went into free-fall while trying to land on the lunar surface, company officials said Friday, blaming a software issue and a last-minute switch in the touchdown location.
The spacecraft belonging to the company ispace was originally supposed to land in a flat plain. But the target was changed to a crater before December’s launch. The crater’s steep cliff apparently confused the onboard software, and the 7-foot (2-meter) spacecraft went into a free-fall from less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) up, slamming into the lunar surface.
CEO and founder Takeshi Hakamada said the company is still on track to attempt another moon landing in 2024, and that all the lessons learned will be incorporated into the next try. A third landing attempt is planned for 2025.
If successful, ispace would have been the first private company to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. Only three governments have achieved that: Russia, the United States and China. An Israeli nonprofit tried in 2019, but its attempt also ended in a crash landing.
Named Hakuto, Japanese for white rabbit, the spacecraft and its experiments were insured, according to Hakamada. The United Arab Emirates had a mini lunar rover on board that was lost in the crash.