The Japanese company iSpace, which had hoped to carry out a private moon landing, has announced that it is likely its lunar lander has crashed on the surface. Communication with the Hakuto-R craft was lost moments before it was due to touch down. Engineers are currently investigating the cause of the incident. The iSpace lander was launched by a SpaceX rocket in December and was set to release an exploratory rover as well as a small robot developed by a toymaker. Despite not completing the mission, iSpace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said the company had “fully accomplished the significance of this mission, having acquired a great deal of data and experience by being able to execute the landing phase.” The lander was relatively small and compact, weighing 340kg and standing just over 2 meters tall.

The Japanese mission was the first test by iSpace of what they hope will be a series of commercial landers over the next few years. The company’s vision is to provide commercial services for a sustained human presence on the lunar surface, such as sending up equipment for mining and producing rocket fuel. A successful landing would have represented a “step change” in commercial involvement in space exploration, according to Dr. Adam Baker, director of space consultancy firm Rocket Engineering. The United States, Russia, and China are the only countries to have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface, all through government-sponsored programs. In 2019, Israel’s Beresheet mission became the first attempt by a private company to land on the moon, but its spacecraft was lost during the landing attempt.