A private Japanese lunar lander is in a race to make history.
On November 28, Tokyo-based ispace’s Hakuto-R lander is scheduled to be launched for the moon‘s Atlas Crater to prepare for a soft landing, which could be the first ever by a private company on the lunar surface.
Hakuto-R will take off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida and arrive on the moon no earlier than April 2023. After landing, Hakuto-R will deploy a small rover from the United Arab Emirates, called Rashid. The four-wheeled rover will study the moon for 14 Earth days using a high-resolution camera, thermal imager, microscopic imager and a probe designed to examine electrical charges on the lunar surface.
However, it’s unclear whether Hakuto-R will be the first private company to gently land on the moon. NASA commissioned Intuitive Machines to launch its Nova-C Lunar Landernow scheduled for March 2023, while Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander will take off in the first quarter of 2023, according to Spaceflight Now launch schedule (opens in a new tab). At this early stage, it’s hard to say which of these companies will land first.
“Our first mission will lay the groundwork for unlocking the moon’s potential and transforming it into a robust and vibrant economic system,” ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement. statement (opens in a new tab) Thursday, November 17, a day after NASA kicked off its Artemis human lunar program with the successful launch of the uncrewed satellite Artemis 1.
Landing safely on the moon is difficult, especially for private companies, which lack the resources of a national government. For example, the private funding of SpaceIL Beresheet Lander crashed on his touchdown attempt. 2019. But a new era is coming nonetheless, with small commercial landers swarming the moon to help pave the way for future human landings.
NASA’s Artemis program supports a fleet of companies like ispace, Astrobotic, and Intuitive Machines under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program (CLPS) that will bring even more robotic missions to the surface over the next decade. (Hakuto-R is not supported by CLPS, but ispace partner Draper was commissioned by NASA to lead a team performing a daring lunar landing on the other side should happen in 2025 at the earliest.)
Hakuto-R’s main landing site, Atlas Crater, is in the northeast quadrant of the moon near Mare Frigoris (“Sea of Cold”). The site was chosen to “maintain flexibility during operations”, ispace said, but the company did not disclose many details other than that the site allows for “multiple contingencies” during the long transit phase. of the mission.
“Careful consideration of target site criteria included duration of continuous sunlight and visibility of communications from Earth,” ispace officials wrote. “Alternate landing targets include Lacus Somniorum, Sinus Iridium, and Oceanus Procellarum, among others.”
“Hakuto”, which means “white rabbit” in Japanese, was the name of the team managed by ispace for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). The GLXP offered $20 million to the first private group capable of landing on the moon and performing a few tasks, but concluded in 2018 without any winner receiving the prize.
Hakuto-R (the “R” stands for “rebooted”) was originally scheduled to land on the moon in 2021, but was held back due to technical issues and other topics. The company ultimately aims to enable human settlement using lunar water ice that can be mined in situ.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Where Facebook (opens in a new tab).