The world’s smallest lunar probe misses the moon

A Japanese lunar probe that hitched a ride on the launch of Artemis 1 will not land on the moon. There are hopes for a new mission for the probe in March 2023.

The Artemis program got its start with the successful launch on 16 November. In addition to the Orion spacecraft, the giant Space Launch System (SLS) rocket also took ten smaller cube satellites into space. One of these – the Japanese Omotenashi – would be the smallest probe to date to land on the moon.

The SLS rocket took Orion and ten cube satellites into space on November 16, 2022. Photo: NASA / Zuma press /TT

The 14-kilogram space probe separated from the SLS rocket as planned after launch. After this, however, the Japanese space agency Jaxa failed to establish a stable radio contact with the probe.

– We have determined that communication with the space probe cannot be established and that the lunar landing operation cannot be carried out, writes Jaxa on twitter.

The probe may receive a new mission in March 2023

Early signals from the cube satellite indicated that the probe’s solar cells were not facing the sun and that it was rotating strongly. In an attempt to counteract the rotation, some of the fuel was released from the Omotenashi – however this did not solve the problem. Due to “insufficient voltage”, the radio transmitter was then switched off.

Omotenashi stands for “outstanding moon exploration technologies demonstrated by nano semi-hard impactor”. The plan was for the craft to perform a hard landing – a deliberate and controlled crash landing – from 100 to 200 meters high on the lunar surface. Now the probe therefore sails past the moon instead.

An image of the moon taken from the Orion spacecraft. The Japanese lunar probe launched with Orion missed its chance to land on the moon. Photo: NASA

The cube satellite will head back towards us and circle the Earth before leaving our planet again. Around March 2023, the spacecraft will hopefully be better aligned with the sun so that the solar cells can receive enough sunlight to power the radio transmitter.

– We plan to resume exploratory operations around that time, and when contact with the spacecraft is established we want to conduct tests that can be done in orbit, writes Jaxa on twitter.

Would have become Japan’s first lunar probe

Omotenashi would be Japan’s first lunar probe and the smallest probe on the moon to date. The goal was to demonstrate an inexpensive technology for landing and exploring the lunar surface.

The probe is also equipped to make radiation measurements near and on the Moon.


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