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Japanese commercial moon lander, UAE rover ready for launch on SpaceX rocket – Spaceflight Now - Spaceflight Now

Japanese commercial moon lander, UAE rover ready for launch on SpaceX rocket – Spaceflight Now - Spaceflight Now

Nov 30, 2022 2 mins, 56 secs

A commercial moon craft developed by the Japanese company ispace is awaiting launch from Cape Canaveral before dawn Thursday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will send it on a five-month trajectory culminating in a lunar landing attempt next year, an achievement that could make ispace the first private company to accomplish the feat.

The Falcon 9 rocket will send the spacecraft on a course taking it a million miles from Earth, well beyond the moon, on a long-duration but fuel-efficient voyage before it slips into lunar orbit next April.

Once in orbit around the moon, ispace’s lander will fire its main engine to autonomously descend to the lunar surface, targeting a landing in the northern hemisphere of the moon’s nearside.

The Google Lunar X Prize, the sweepstakes that offered a $20 million grand prize to the first privately-funded team to put a lander on the moon, was the original impetus for Takeshi Hakamada to establish the company that eventually became ispace.

As of July, the company had secured $237 million in equity financing and bank loans to pay for the Hakuto-R lunar transportation program, although ispace has not disclosed the cost of the mission launching this week.

The first Hakuto-R lander, which ispace calls Mission 1, will carry about 24 pounds (11 kilograms) of customer payloads to the moon’s surface, according to Hakamada.

The so-called transformable lunar robot weighs just a half-pound (250 grams) and is some 3 inches (80 millimeters) wide before it deploys tiny wheels to roll across the lunar surface and collect data and imagery to aid in the design of a future pressurized rover to transport astronauts on the moon.

Government-led missions from the United States, the Soviet Union, and China have landed on the moon, but ispace is using a commercial business model.

The Lunar Flashlight is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and will fly itself to a looping halo orbit around the moon.

The Hakuto-R lander will fire thrusters to be captured into lunar orbit, then set up for the final descent to the surface around the end of April.

But this orbit is similar to several recent mission to use similar trajectory, like the CAPSTONE mission by NASA or the Korean lunar orbiter as well.

Ryo Ujiie, ispace’s chief technology officer, said the company has identified 10 major milestones for its first lunar landing mission.

Other milestones included the completion of one month of operations in deep space, the execution of additional course correction burns, entry into lunar orbit, adjustments to line up with the landing site, and the landing itself.

Aside from the payloads mounted on lander, ispace aims to fulfill a contract with NASA with the first Hakuto-R mission.

NASA awarded contracts in 2020 to purchase lunar regolith from commercial companies, including a $5,000 deal to ispace.

NASA wants to eventually contract with commercial companies to acquire resources, such as minerals and water, that could sustain a future moon base.

Hakamada said ispace has a second contract to sell lunar regolith to NASA on the company’s next lunar landing mission, scheduled for 2024

On that mission, ispace may attempt to scoop up some soil from the lunar surface

While the first Hakuto-R Series 1 lander is a purely commercial mission, ispace is working with Draper and other space companies to develop a larger robotic moon lander to transport up to a half-ton of cargo to the moon for NASA

Draper and ispace won a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, contract earlier this year to deliver multiple NASA science instruments to the moon’s surface in 2025

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