Japan has cancelled its bid to become the fourth country to reach the Moon. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) sent its Omotenashi CubeSat together with NASA’s SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft to the moon as part of the Artemis I mission. But after separating from the rocket, JAXA immediately lost contact with Omotenashi, preventing the CubeSat from landing on the lunar surface as planned. Mission chief Tatsuaki Hashimoto called the failure “very deplorable,” Kyodo News reported.
JAXA conceded defeat with its lunar program after unsuccessful attempts to contact the CubeSat. But the engineering team will try to find the reason for the loss of communication and find out what exactly went wrong. According to JAXA, after separation from the launch vehicle, Omotenashi’s solar panels began to malfunction.
A loss of $5.6 million
The Omotenashi CubeSat is only 37 centimeters long and weighs 12.6 kg. The $5.6 million mission was supposed to demonstrate a relatively inexpensive way to land on the moon’s surface and explore it. Kubesat was designed to measure the radiation environment near the Moon, as well as on the lunar surface.
The cubesat’s design included an engine using cooled gas to allow Omotenashi to launch into a lunar descent trajectory and a solid-propellant rocket engine to help it decelerate to minimum speed during landing. Had the planned sequence occurred, the lander would have ejected the rocket and entered a free fall of approximately 100 meters. Just before impact with the lunar surface, the lander had to deploy a small airbag to reduce the force of the impact.
The last hope
Although Omotenashi will no longer descend to the lunar surface, there is still a small chance that mission operators will be able to make contact with the cubesat next year when its solar arrays return to the sun. This will allow the team to download radiation measurements collected while in space.
Only three countries have landed spacecraft on the Moon: the USA, the USSR and China. Japan will have to build a new spacecraft and conquer our natural satellite before it can add itself to this prestigious list.
We previously reported on NASA’s losing contact with the CAPSTONE cubesat.