A month after a Japanese lunar lander, NASA has found debris confirming the craft's "hard landing."
The Japanese lander, a privately-funded spacecraft called the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lunar lander and launched by the company ispace, launched on Dec. 11, 2022, and was meant to land in the moon's Atlas crater on April 25. The ispace team said in a news release that the lander's descent speed had rapidly increased as it approached the moon. It then lost contact with Mission Control.
"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," ispace said.
On April 26, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic spacecraft that orbits the moon and has cameras that have provided topographic maps of the lunar surface, captured 10 images around the landing site. Those images, along with an image taken before the landing event, helped the science team operating the orbiter begin searching for the Japanese lander in a 28-by-25 mile region.
The camera team was able to identify what NASA called "an unusual surface change" near where the lander was supposed to end up.
The photo taken by the orbiter shows "four prominent pieces of debris" and several changes in the lunar surface, including some changes that could indicate a small crater or pieces of the lander.
The photos are just the first step in the process, NASA said. The site will be "further analyzed over the coming months," NASA said, and the orbiter will make further observations of the site in different lighting conditions and from other angles.
ispace has further plans to launch other missions to the moon. Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace,before the failed launch that the company's goal is to help develop a lunar economy and create infrastructure that will augment and make it easier to access the surface of the moon.
The company's lunar exploration program includes another lander, which is scheduled to take another rover to a moon in 2024. A third mission is being planned. Hakamada told CBS News that if possible, the goal is to set "high-frequency transportation to the lunar surface to support scientific missions, exploration missions and also technology demonstration missions."
"We are planning to offer frequent missions to the surface," Hakamada said. "After 2025, we plan to offer two to three missions per year."
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