In late April, a privately-owned Japanese lunar lander failed in its attempt to land on the Moon, crashing on the lunar surface to never be heard from again. Although we may not have seen the lander’s final moments, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured an overhead view of the spacecraft’s crash site, revealing the point of impact surrounded by scattered debris.
On April 26, LRO captured a series of ten images around the estimated landing site of Japan’s Hakuto-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander, according to LRO’s camera team at Arizona State University. Using its Narrow Angle Cameras, NASA’s lunar orbiter covered a region that spans across approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) by 28 miles (45 kilometers). The team then analyzed the new set of images, comparing them against an older image taken before the landing attempt, hoping to spot the deceased Japanese lander.
Sure enough, the images revealed the tragic impact site after the team identified unusual surface changes in the before-and-after views of the landing area. By analyzing the images, the team found four prominent pieces of debris from the crashed lander and several small changes to the surface of the Moon.
The images captured after the impact show several bright pixels in the upper left area, with several dark pixels in the lower right area. Those features do not match up with the surrounding boulders, meaning that they could actually be bits and pieces of the Hakuto-R lander.
LRO is the local Moon snitch, capturing all kinds of images of other spacecraft in lunar orbit or after they’ve crashed onto the dusty lunar surface. In 2019, the orbiter captured the crash site of Israel’s Beresheet lunar lander, which attempted to become the first private mission to land on the Moon but ended up crashing on its surface as well.
Tokyo-based company ispace was hoping to become the first private company to successfully land on the Moon. Hakuto-R M1 launched on December 11, 2022 on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, marking the Japanese company’s inaugural mission. Things were looking good for the lunar lander but Hakuto-R may have unexpectedly accelerated, foiling its soft landing attempt.
Hakuto-R M1 was carrying both commercial and government-owned payloads to the Moon including a tiny, two-wheeled transformable robot from the Japanese space agency. All payloads were lost on the lunar surface.
Looking ahead, ispace wants to launch another lunar lander as a follow-up mission, but it’s not clear when the company will be able to do that just yet. In the meantime, hopefully the team behind Hakuto-R can now officially say their goodbyes to the disfigured lander corpse.
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