Japan has given up on trying to become the fourth country to land on the moon.
The nation sent its Omotenashi CubeSat into orbit aboard of NASA’s SLS rocket last week when he launched the Orion spacecraft towards the moon on 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 attempted a lunar landing.
Mission leader Tatsuaki Hashimoto described the failure as “deeply regrettable,” he reported. Kyodo News.
After several days of trying to make contact with the CubeSat, JAXA finally conceded defeat on Tuesday, while also vowing 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 malfunctioned.
The Omotenashi CubeSat measures 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 cheap way to land and explore the lunar surface. The CubeSat is designed to take measurements of the radiation environment near the moon, as well as on the lunar surface.
The technology included a cold gas booster to allow the CubeSat to enter a lunar impact orbit, and a solid rocket motor to help it slow down during the landing phase. Had the landing sequence gone as planned, the lander would have discarded the rocket and freefalled for about 100 meters. Just before impact with the lunar surface, the lander would have deployed a small air pocket to reduce the force of the impact.
While Omotenashi will no longer head to the lunar surface, there is still a chance mission operators could make contact with the CubeSat next year when its solar arrays face the sun. This will allow the team to download radiation measurements collected during their time in space.
Only three countries have landed spacecraft on the moon: the United States, Russia, and China. Japan will have to wait a bit longer before they can be added to the list.