Japanese moon mission probably ended in lunar crash, company says

The Japanese company ispace said its craft was 33 feet away from landing on the moon when it lost contact. The company said it might have crashed.

A model of the lander of HAKUTO-R private lunar exploration program
Eugene Hoshiko / AP

Japanese space company ispace says its mission to land an unmanned probe on the moon appears to have failed.

Mission controllers lost contact with the probe Wednesday when it had nearly completed its descent. The last communication from the probe came when it was just 33 feet above the moon's surface, while it was traveling at about 16 miles per hour.

The probe was carrying a rover from the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, and a small robot from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

In a statement on Tuesday, ispace said there was a "high probability" that the lander had impacted the moon's surface, rather than making a soft landing. 

Takeshi Hakamada, the Founder and CEO of ispace, said regardless of the outcome of this mission, the company would proceed with another probe launch in 2024.

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So far, no private moon mission has succeeded. Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL sent a robotic mission of its own in 2019, but it too lost contact with its probe in the moments before it would have landed on the surface.

Three governments — the U.S., Russia and China — have made successful moon landings.

Ispace hopes to eventually become a one-way transport service for lunar missions, which are gaining fresh funding and attention. Four different commercial probe missions are expected to launch from the U.S. this year, and NASA's Artemis program is expected to make its first crewed test flight in 2024 as it pushes toward returning humans to the lunar surface.