Japan's space agency had to abandon a historic lunar landing attempt

The agency's sent a tiny lunar lander aboard NASA's Artemis I moon mission.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of OMOTENASHI.
An artist's impression of OMOTENASHI.

JAXA 

Japan will have to wait a little longer to perform its historic first lunar landing.

That's because a tiny Japanese moon lander that hitched a ride aboard NASA's Artemis I moon mission has failed to make it to the lunar surface, a report from Space.com reveals.

Officials working on the OMOTENASHI moon spacecraft announced on Twitter that they had failed to pick up the CubeSat's signal ahead of a planned lunar landing attempt.

Meet OMOTENASHI: Japan's tiny lunar lander

OMOTENASHI is one of ten CubeSat missions that took to the skies with the launch of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) for its Artemis I moon mission, including the NEA Scout mission, which will send a small solar sail spacecraft to a nearby asteroid.

"Communication with the spacecraft could not be established, and it was determined that the lunar landing maneuver (DV2) operation could not be performed," the Japan Aerospace and Exploration Agency (JAXA) tweeted in Japanese on Monday, November 21.

JAXA did add that it hopes to redirect its spacecraft for a new mission attempt around March 2023 if it can establish better communication conditions. Before that happens, the Japanese space agency will investigate why it couldn't establish communication with the small toaster-sized spacecraft in time.

Initial communications from the OMOTENASHI spacecraft suggested it rotated heavily and that its solar cells were not picking up enough sunlight. The team tried to vent some fuel to stabilize the course, but they soon found insufficient voltage and had to turn off the transmitter.

Will JAXA get a second chance at a lunar landing?

OMOTENASHI stands for "Outstanding Moon exploration Technologies demonstrated by Nano Semi-Hard Impactor." The spacecraft launched aboard NASA's Artemis I mission on November 16 and was intended to perform a hard landing attempt from an altitude of 100 to 200 meters (328 to 626 feet) above the lunar surface. The spacecraft features airbags and a shock absorption system to soften the landing.

Right now, however, OMOTENASHI is traveling through deep space. In the spring, though, JAXA says the effects of Earth's gravity could help swing the spacecraft back to a trajectory that would favor another mission attempt. On Twitter, they wrote that OMOTENASHI "will fly by the moon, approach the Earth once, and then escape from the Earth's gravitational sphere."

All of this depends on whether the tiny spacecraft can draw in enough sunlight to power itself, and thankfully JAXA says it will fly closer to the Sun in March, meaning it should be able to draw energy. Unfortunately, Japan's first lunar lander mission hasn't been a success on its first attempt. Thankfully, it looks like the country's space agency could soon make another attempt at landing on the moon.

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