Japan's space agency said Tuesday it has given up on landing the country's ultrasmall space probe on the moon after communication with the lander failed to stabilize following its launch last week.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the Omotenashi lander could not receive transmissions from Earth to correct its trajectory and position, as its solar cells kept facing away from the sun. Attempts to correct its orbit were also unsuccessful, the agency said.
Tatsuaki Hashimoto, a professor at JAXA, called the development a "failure beyond failure" at a news conference following the decision to forgo the moon landing.
Development costs for the probe were ¥800 million ($5.6 million), he said.
JAXA hoped the box-shaped lander, measuring 11 centimeters in length, 24 cm in width, and 37 cm in height and weighing 12.6 kilograms, would have become the country's first probe to land on the lunar surface.
Omotenashi, touted as the world's smallest lunar lander, was launched last Wednesday from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the U.S. mega-rocket Space Launch System.
After the launch, the lander was successfully separated from the rocket and started to travel toward the moon.
But its solar cells failed to function as its body rotated away from the sun once every four to five seconds, which is eight times faster than the assumed limit.
Waiting until the solar cells recovered on Tuesday or later would have meant losing the opportunity to enter a lunar orbit and land on the moon, the agency said.
JAXA gives up on landing Omotenashi probe on moon
Japan's space agency has given up on a plan to land its Omotenashi probe on the moon's surface.
The unmanned lunar lander failed to establish stable communications with controllers on Earth, after it lifted off atop NASA's Space Launch System rocket from Kennedy Space Center last week.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency officials had said they would try to correct the craft's trajectory before it passed by the moon and slow down its speed in a bid to land it on the surface at around 11:55 p.m. on Monday, Japan Time.
But the officials announced at around 2 a.m. on Tuesday that they had ditched that plan, saying they didn't see any improvement in communications with the probe.
The officials said the craft couldn't charge its batteries, because its improperly oriented solar panel didn't receive sunlight.
A successful landing of the Omotenashi would have made Japan the fourth country to put a spacecraft on the lunar surface, following the former Soviet Union, the United States and China.
The agency still plans to use the Omotenashi for other pre-planned missions, such as measuring levels of radiation exposure in space, if it succeeds in improving communications with the probe.
JAXA to look into cause of probe lunar landing failure
Japan's space agency says it will try to determine why its plan to land an unmanned probe on the moon failed.
The Omotenashi probe was launched last Wednesday from Kennedy Space Center atop a NASA rocket. It was intended to be the first Japanese lander on the moon.
But officials at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency ditched the plan early Tuesday Japan time, after failing to establish stable communications with the craft.
JAXA officials said in an online briefing that they tried until around 2 a.m. to slow down the probe for a landing, but could not receive radio waves from it.
Hashimoto Tatsuaki, a professor at JAXA's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, oversaw the probe's development.
He said his team thought there was a 60 percent chance of success but had to give up before the landing process could start, so it was much more than a failure.
Hashimoto expressed huge disappointment, noting that developing the probe cost about 800 million yen, or more than 5.6 million dollars.
JAXA plans to set up a task force to examine why the probe's solar panel was not properly positioned to receive sunlight, making it impossible to charge Omotenashi's batteries. The glitch destabilized telecommunications with the ground.
The agency says analysis of Omotenashi's trajectory suggests the panel could receive sunlight from around March next year.
If that succeeds, the agency plans to use the probe for other planned missions such as measuring radiation exposure in space.