Japan has given up on trying to become the fourth country to reach the moon.
The nation sent its Omotenashi CubeSat into orbit aboard NASA’s SLS rocket last week when it launched the Orion spacecraft toward the moon in the Artemis I mission.
But after separating from the SLS rocket, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was unable to establish communication with the Omotenashi, preventing the CubeSat from attempting a lunar landing.
Mission leader Tatsuaki Hashimoto described the failure as “deeply regrettable,” Kyodo News reported.
After several days of trying to make contact with the CubeSat, JAXA finally admitted defeat on Tuesday, at the same time promising to launch an investigation to find out what went wrong. What we do know is that after separating from the rocket, Omotenashi’s solar cells failed to properly function.
The Omotenashi CubeSat is just 37 centimeters on its longest side and tips the scales at 27.8 pounds. The $5.6-million mission was supposed to demonstrate a relatively low-cost way of landing on and exploring the lunar surface. The CubeSat is designed to take measurements of the radiation environment close to the moon as well as on the lunar surface.
The technology included a cold gas thruster to enable the CubeSat to enter a lunar-impact orbit, and a solid rocket motor to help it reduce speed during the landing phase. Had the touchdown sequence played out as planned, the lander would have discarded the rocket and entered a free fall for about 100 meters. Just prior to impact with the lunar surface, the lander would have deployed a small airbag to reduce the force of the impact.
While Omotenashi will no longer be heading to the lunar surface, there’s still a chance that mission operators will be able to establish contact with the CubeSat next year when its solar panels face the sun. This will allow the team to download radiation measurements gathered during its time in space.
Only three countries have landed spacecraft on the moon — the U.S., Russia, and China. Japan is going to have to wait a little longer before it can add itself to the list.