Japan without news from her ship – Liberation

Japan without news from her ship – Liberation

If the maneuver works, we could record the first two great events in the history of space exploration: the first time Japan lands on the moon, and the first time our natural satellite hosts a special mission. On Tuesday, April 25, the Japanese Hakuto-R probe attempted a soft landing Atlas craternear the southeastern edge ofsea ​​of ​​cold“.

But at 6:40 p.m., the time it was scheduled to land (in Paris), the probe sent no confirmation signal. The engineers in the control room waited minutes for an email to pop up on their screens… to no avail. However, we know that it braked so hard that it only descended at a speed of about 3 meters per second, at a height of 20 metres… Did it encounter a rock that damaged it when it touched the ground? Did the engine shut down a few seconds prematurely, or too late, triggering a restart? It would now be necessary to wait for hours, even days, before receiving a definitive answer. In any case, the news may not be good.

Earth’s circumference is very large

It’s already been a month since the spacecraft was in orbit around the moon, four months since it left the earth… four months to go from the earth to the moon, isn’t it a long time? Yes, but it is very economical. Since its launch at the end of November 2022, the Hakuto-R probe has been making a very large circle around the Earth to gain momentum. she Uses a low-energy transfer orbit. Explain The private company Ispace that built the probe. Instead of relying on a powerful rocket to send it straight on its way to the moon, Hakuto-R “It uses a combination of gravitational forces and orbit control maneuvers to get to its destination.” It traveled up to 1.5 million kilometers from our planet, before returning to orbit around the Moon on March 21.

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The probe first made an ellipse around the Moon, then gradually tightened its rings until they were nicely round, at an altitude of 100 km, from April 13. All that remains is to prepare for the moon landing. The first opportunity is offered this Tuesday at 6:40pm (Paris time), with possible new attempts on April 26, May 1, and May 3 if things go wrong.

One ton heavy with all the equipment it’s carrying to the moon, and 1.6 meters high, the Hakuto-R lander will have to rely on its rear end to brake enough before reaching the ground. Six small intakes dotted around the vehicle will aid in adjustments and positioning, so the Hakuto-R lands upright and upright, perched on its four large feet.

Competitions and startups

If he gets there safely, the mood will be festive on planet Earth. Japan will become only the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, after the Soviet Union (with Moon 9 in 1966) and the United States and China (in 2013). Israel attempted to enter this prestigious club in 2019, with a Beresheet mission, but the probe crashed on the moon’s surface instead of landing there smoothly. A little brother named Beresheet 2 will try again in 2025…but in the meantime, Japan has prepared its marbles with Ispace.

This private company was founded in 2010, initially as a response to the “Google Lunar X Prize” competition that rewards the first startup to succeed in landing a machine on the moon. No one managed to complete the challenge before the deadline in 2018, and the promised scholarship was not awarded to the winner. But while most teams have thrown in the towel in the face of technical and financial difficulties, some of the finalists have continued to work on their project. Such was the case of the Japanese Ispace team, which managed to raise $90 million for the design and construction of the lunar lander.

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Emirati rover

To make his trip profitable, Hakuto-R takes several science projects with him, including a rover (we also say rover) made by Emiratis. Highly motivated to develop a space program worthy of their fortune, the UAE has been working hard for a few years now. They were able to land on the International Space Station in 2019 for their pioneer, Hazza Al-Mansoori, and they sent a probe to Mars in 2020 … with the help of international partners, to benefit from knowledge that the Arab country does not possess. I haven’t had time to buy yet. For example, their Mars Hope mission relied on US-UAE cooperation to build the lander and a Japanese rocket to launch.

For this tiny 10-kilogram lunar rover named Rashid, it’s the same story. It was built mainly at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, but it has three French cameras provided by Cnes (two wide-field cameras and a microscope) that will allow it to take high definition color images of the moon. The photos will make it possible to select the most promising places for exploration from a geological point of view. France complements its contribution with operational support for the Emirati teams: “Two colleagues and I will be permanently present at the control center in Dubai. As geologists, we will decide what observations to make.”Jessica Flahaut, a researcher at the Center for Petrographic and Geochemical Research (CRPG), explains, on the Cnes website.

South African Space Agency You will also lend two antennas To serve as a relay between the vehicle on the moon and the control center in Dubai.

Rashid was designed to operate for about fourteen Earth days, one lunar day from sunrise to sunset. It will tread and analyze the lunar soil and dust (called regolith) that covers its surface and environment.

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Hakuto-R will also deploy another robot, the “Japanese lunar rover”: a sphere 8 centimeters in diameter, weighing 250 grams, which will Opened in two halves to roll on the soil And make superficial observations with its miniature cameras.

private companies

This Japanese mission ushers in a new chapter in lunar exploration by private companies. Ispace already has two upcoming lunar missions scheduled for Schedule itplanned in 2024 and 2025, and is expected “Increase the pace of the moon landings” In a few years to bring more materials to our satellite and establish a working and living base on the moon. A new version of the Ispace lander is in development. It will be bigger and more powerful, it will be able to carry 500 kilograms of material on the lunar surface (versus 30 kilograms today) and it will have to figure out how to survive the lunar night – two weeks without light, and therefore without power from solar panels, and a freezing temperature (between -130 degrees and -270 degrees Celsius).

For its part, the American startup Intuitive Machines will launch its own mission to the Moon at the end of June. Tentatively scheduled for April, it will race against Ispace, to see who will land first…but the date has been pushed back with a last-minute change: instead of making it to the Ocean of Storms, this American mission called Nova -VS You will eventually aim for the south pole of the moon. It will thus be able to provide logistical support for future NASA Artemis missions, which will bring astronauts to the South Pole from 2025.

And then there’s the juggernaut SpaceX, chosen by NASA to build an even bigger lunar lander:Human landing systemThe American company will have to bring the astronauts of the Artemis missions to the lunar surface.

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