Private Japanese lunar lander crash blamed on software, last-minute location change

A Tokyo firm whose lunar lander slammed into the moon says a software glitch and a last-minute change to the landing location led to the crash

ByMARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — A privately owned Japanese lunar lander plummeted while attempting to land on the lunar surface last month, company officials said Friday, blaming a software glitch and a last-minute change to the location of landing.

The spacecraft belonging to the ispace company was initially supposed to land on a flat plain. But the target was changed to a crater before the December launch. The steep crater cliff apparently confused the onboard software, and the 7-foot (2-meter) spacecraft went into freefall less than 3 miles (5 kilometers) high, slamming into the lunar surface.

The estimated speed at impact was over 300 feet (100 meters) per second, said the company’s chief technology officer, Ryo Ujiie.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the crash site the next day as it flew overhead, revealing a debris field as well as lunar soil thrown up from the impact.

Computer simulations performed before the landing attempt did not incorporate the terrain of the new landing site, Ujiie said.

CEO and founder Takeshi Hakamada said the company is still on track to attempt another moon landing in 2024, and any lessons learned will be incorporated into the next trial. A third landing attempt is scheduled for 2025.

If successful, ispace would have been the first private company to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. Only three governments have succeeded: Russia, the United States and China. An Israeli nonprofit tried in 2019, but its attempt also ended in a crash landing.

Named Hakuto, Japanese for White Rabbit, the spacecraft and its experiments were insured, according to Hakamada. The United Arab Emirates had a mini lunar rover on board which was lost in the accident.

Two American companies have lunar landers waiting to launch later this year from Cape Canaveral, in partnership with NASA.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Education Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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