Japan’s ispace launches world’s first commercial moon lander

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A Japanese space startup launched a spacecraft to the moon on Sunday after several delays, a first for the country and a private company.

ispace Inc’s HAKUTO-R mission lifted off without incident from Cape Canaveral, Florida, after two delays caused by inspections of its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

More than a hundred people at a spectator party in Tokyo cheered as the rocket was fired and lifted into the dark sky.

“I’m very happy. After a series of delays, it’s good that we held a proper launch today,” said Yuriko Takeda, a 28-year-old employee of an electronics company who joined the crowd.

“I have this picture of the American flag from the Apollo landings, so when it’s a launch event, it’s a really meaningful step for a private company to go there with a rover.”

Officials watch ispace Inc's launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Officials watch ispace Inc’s launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Kyoto via REUTERS

The national space agencies of the United States, Russia and China have achieved soft landings on Earth’s neighbors over the past half century, but no agency has.

Mission success would be a milestone in space cooperation between Japan and the U.S. at a time when China is increasingly competitive in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and is no longer available for rides on Russian rockets.

It will fill a few days for Japan after billionaire Yusaku Maezawa revealed He hopes to take eight crew members on Friday for a SpaceX flyby of the moon as soon as next year.

The name Hakuto refers to a white rabbit living on the moon in Japanese folklore, as opposed to the Western concept of a man in the moon. The project was a finalist in the Google Lunar XPRIZE before being revived as a commercial venture.

Next year is the Year of the Rabbit in the Asian calendar. The spacecraft, assembled in Germany, is expected to land on the moon by the end of April.

The company hopes this is the first of many deliveries of government and commercial payloads. The iSpacecraft aims to put a small NASA satellite into lunar orbit to search for water deposits before touching the Atlas crater.

The M1 lander uses two robotic rovers, a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover from Japan’s JAXA space agency and a four-wheeled Rashid Explorer made by the United Arab Emirates. It will also carry an experimental solid-state battery manufactured by NGK Spark Plug Co.

“The Rashid rover is part of the UAE’s ambitious space program,” said Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, who watched the launch at the UAE Vice President Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre. .

Time exposure of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch.
Time exposure of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch.

“Our aim is to exchange knowledge and enhance our skills and add a scientific stamp to the history of mankind,” he tweeted.

Privately funded iSpace has a contract with NASA to transport payloads to the moon starting in 2025 and aims to build a permanently manned lunar colony by 2040.


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