Japan’s attempts to become the fourth country to reach the Moon have failed, according to a tweet shared this week. The country’s OMOTENASHI lander (short for Outstanding Moon exploration Technologies demonstrated by Nano Semi-Hard Impactor) set off from the Artemis I rocket but failed to make contact back home.
The lander was basically a CubeSat probe that was designed to land on the Moon and explore its surface. It was part of Artemis I’s launch last week. However, shortly after detaching from the Artemis I rocket, the ground team was unable to communicate with the OMOTENASHI lander. This made it impossible to orient the craft with the Sun and recharge its batteries.
Japan’s lander was just one of three CubeSats attached to the Artemis I launch that were intended for the Moon. The others include ArgoMoon, an Italian-constructed spacecraft, and NASA’s own BioSentinel CubeSat-slash-biolab. These other two are still en route to the Moon. Sadly, the OMOTENASHI lander was the only one planned for a controlled landing.
The hope was that the lander would provide more insight into the process of landing smaller spacecraft safely, something that will be vital for future space exploration, especially if NASA sends a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. Because they weren’t able to connect with the OMOTENASHI lander, though, the team was unable to complete its scheduled landing.
It’s disappointing to see Japan’s lander fall during its journey. However, it isn’t unheard of for spacecraft to lose communication or fail entirely when being sent on these longer-range missions. While still relatively close, traveling from Earth to the Moon can be precarious for spacecraft. As such, OMOTENASHI’s chances of reaching the Moon were already skewed.
Hopefully, we can learn more from the other two landers slated to arrive on the lunar surface, and hopefully, Japan will get another chance to send a lunar lander like the OMOTENASHI next time NASA’s Artemis missions liftoff.