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A software issue caused the ispace lander to crash

Japan’s ispace said on May 26 that a software glitch prevented it from accurately determining the altitude of the moon landing craft, resulting in an accident during its landing attempt last month. The Tokyo-based company said an investigation into the failed April 25 landing of the HAKUTO-R M1 lander concluded that the on-board computer ignored the altitude information from the laser rangefinder as it passed over the crater, causing the lander to make a decision. about this. It was on the surface when it was only five kilometers up.

During an online briefing, ispace executives said the first stages of the landing were going according to plan. The altitude calculated by the inertial meter coincided with the laser range finder measurements. However, the readings diverged when the measured altitude increased by three kilometers as the all-terrain vehicle crossed the Atlas Crater as it approached the landing site.

Ryo Ujiie, chief technical officer of ispace, said that the on-board computer was not programmed to wait for such a change and ignored the data from the laser rangefinder, assuming the device was faulty. He said this was a deliberate choice to “make our control system more robust against sensor hardware failures.”

However, the sensor did not fail, and when the lander’s computer thought it was on the surface, it accurately indicated that the lander was still about five kilometers above the surface. The lander continued to descend at a slow rate of about one meter per second under the engines until it ran out of fuel. The lander then went into free fall and crashed into the surface at more than 100 meters per second.

An image released May 23 from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) shows the crash site and what appears to be some debris from the spacecraft. This impact site was not far from the intended landing site in Atlas Crater, but Oujie specifically declined to say how far the lander fell from the intended landing site.

He said one factor in the disaster was a change in landing sites after the mission completed a critical analysis of the design in February 2021. The mission was originally supposed to land on Lacus Somniorum, a basalt plain with several craters. According to him, this change was not sufficiently tested before launch.

He said the company changed the landing site “to get the most out of the mission” for both the company and its customers. “This is a freight business and we need to maximize freight service.”

The all-terrain vehicle used software developed by Draper, but Ujiie said ispace took responsibility for the failure by tying it to ispace’s software requirements. In addition to the lander software collaboration, ispace’s American subsidiary is designing the lander for the Draper-led landing mission for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Other features of the lander worked properly despite the software flaw. Ujiye said that during the landing, the landing craft’s guidance and control systems were working properly and the spacecraft maintained communication until it landed on the surface.

This performance gives ispace confidence in its prospects for the second M2 lander under development. “With this more enhanced performance, I believe I can be successful in the next challenge,” he said.

ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said the second landing is on schedule and will begin in 2024. Software changes will also not “significantly” increase the cost of this task.

He said that as the M1 lander did not complete its final mission, ispace would lose about 100 million yen ($710,000) in revenue from mission customers, which would not change the company’s financial outlook for the current fiscal year. It will run until March 2024. The failure is also not expected to affect future missions’ sales or the company’s long-term prospects.

The company had a first-of-its-kind landing fuse from Mitsui Sumitomo. Hakamada said he is still discussing ispace’s claim on politics. He declined to say how much the company expects to receive from this insurance policy, but said that was not reflected in its financial projections. He said the company has a “sustainable business model” that includes capital from the April IPO, as well as a bank loan to support work on M2 and subsequent missions.

“People say it’s a hit or miss, zero or one,” he said, rejecting the duo. The lander performed 8 out of 10 stages, from launch preparation to maneuvers in lunar orbit; these are achievements that the company plans to use in future missions.

“We are very proud of what we have achieved so far,” he said. “We are ready to face the challenges and make every effort to improve.”

Source: Port Altele

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