Japanese company’s lander rockets toward moon with UAE rover

Japanese company's lander rockets toward moon with UAE rover thumbnail

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A Tokyo company aimed for the moon with its own private lander Sunday, blasting off atop a SpaceX rocket with the United Arab Emirates’ first lunar rover and a toylike robot from Japan that’s designed to roll around up there in the gray dust.

It will take the lander and its experiments nearly five months to reach the moon.

Ispace designed its craft to burn less fuel and allow for more cargo. It’s flying slowly to the moon on a low-energy path, traveling 1 million miles (1.6 millions kilometers) from Earth, before looping back and intersecting the moon by April end.

In contrast, NASA’s Orion capsule with test dummies took five day to reach the moon last month. Sunday’s Pacific splashdown will conclude the lunar flyby mission.

The ispace lander will aim for Atlas crater in the northeastern section of the moon’s near side, more than 50 miles (87 kilometers) across and just over 1 mile (2 kilometers) deep. The lander stands at 7 feet (2.3m) high with its four legs extended. The UAE has a science satellite orbiting Mars and wants to explore the moon. Its rover, named Rashid after Dubai’s royal family, weighs just 22 pounds (10 kilograms) and will operate on the surface for about 10 days, like everything else on the mission.

The lander also carries an orange-sized sphere, which is from the Japanese Space Agency. It will transform into a wheeled robot for the moon. Also flying: a solid state battery from a Japanese-based spark plug company; an Ottawa, Ontario, company’s flight computer with artificial intelligence for identifying geologic features seen by the UAE rover; and 360-degree cameras from a Toronto-area company.

Hitching a ride on the rocket was a small NASA laser experiment that is now bound for the moon on its own to hunt for ice in the permanently shadowed craters of the lunar south pole.

The ispace mission is known as Hakuto, which means white rabbit in Japanese. According to Asian folklore, a white bunny lives on the moon. A second lunar landing is planned by the private company for 2024, and another in 2025..

Founded in 2010, ispace was one of the finalists in Google Lunar XPRIZE competition that required a successful landing on moon by 2018.. The lunar rover that ispace built was never launched.

Another finalist was SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit. They were able to reach the moon in 2019. The spacecraft Beresheet crashed into the moon instead of landing gently.

With Sunday’s predawn launch at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station from Sunday, ispace is now on the way to becoming the first private entity to attempt a lunar landing. Because of their shorter cruise times, lunar landers designed by Astrobotic Technology in Pittsburgh and Houston’s Intuitive Machines could be launched before ispace.

Only Russia, the U.S. and China have achieved so-called “soft landings” on the moon, beginning with the former Soviet Union’s Luna 9 in 1966. And only the U.S. has put astronauts on the lunar surface: 12 men over six landings.

Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of astronauts’ last lunar landing, by Apollo 17’s Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt on Dec. 11, 1972. Takeshi Hakamada (ispace founder and CEO) said that the Apollo moonshots were “all about the excitement of technology”. “It’s now the excitement of business. “

“This was the dawn of the lunar economic,” Hakamada stated in the SpaceX launch webcast. “Let’s go to the moon.”

Liftoff should have occurred two weeks ago, but was delayed by SpaceX for extra rocket checks.

Eight minutes after launch, the second-stage booster was relaunched at Cape Canaveral. The double sonic booms echoed through the night.


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