NASA finds crashed Japanese lander on moon

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has found debris at the site on the moon where the privately funded HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander was supposed to have touched down in April.

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It’s believed the lunar lander  crashed on the moon’s surface on April 26 after an anomaly occurred during its descent.

Lunar exploration company ispace launched the lander on a SpaceX rocket on December 11, 2022, aiming to become the first private company to successfully land a robot on the moon.

Gif showing slight change in grey lunar surface with a b c d marked with blue arrows
Before (M192675639R) and after (M1437131607R) 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, C, and D point to other changes around the impact site. The scale bar in the lower right is 50m across. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University.

Now, NASA has released images from the LRO which it says show the sudden appearance of “unusual surface change” near the location where the lander was meant to land safely. “The image shows at least four prominent pieces of debris and several small changes [to the moon’s surface],” says NASA.

Ten images around the landing site were obtained by the LRO’s Narrow Angle Cameras covering a region roughly 40 by 45 kilometres. Comparing images before and after the crash, NASA was able to pinpoint several prominent surface changes due to an object with higher reflectance than the surrounding rocks.

Nearby boulders show lower reflectance, suggesting the anomalies could be small impact craters or different parts of the lander body.

The site will be further analysed over the coming months as LRO takes advantage of different angles and lighting to make additional observations.

Read more: JUICE radar finally deployed by ESA mission control

LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was launched in 2009 to map the moon’s surface. So far, it has provided a huge amount of information about the lunar surface.

Diagram showing stages of ispace lander rocket mission to the moon
Credit: ispace.

Mission 1 of the ispace attempt to put a vehicle on the moon was set to have 10 milestones. The spacecraft failed at the ninth hurdle – completion of lunar landing. It is not yet known what caused the failure, but ispace engineers believe it resulted from the lander running out of fuel just before touchdown.

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