Will the first private vehicle to land on the Moon be Japanese? A lander built by a Japanese company takes off in any case this Sunday from Cape Canaveral. The launch was carried out by a SpaceX rocket from the American base in Florida, after two postponements due to additional checks.
The moon craft, made byr the Tokyo startup Ispacedeparted aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 2:38 a.m. local time (0738 GMT), according to live footage from the launch.
Frequent and low-cost transport to the Moon
So far, only the United States, Russia and China have managed to land robots on the Moon, located about 400,000 km from Earth. “Our first mission will lay the groundwork for unlocking the moon’s potential and creating a strong and vibrant economic system,” company CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement.
Ispace, which has only some 200 employees, intends to set up “a frequent and low-cost transport service to the Moon”. This company’s Hakuto project was one of five finalists in the international Google Lunar XPrize competitionwhich ended without a winner, no company having managed to land a robot before the set date (2018).
But some projects have not been abandoned for all that. Another finalist, from the Israeli organization SpaceIL, failed in April 2019 to become the first privately funded mission to achieve the feat. The lander had crashed on the surface while trying to land.
The Artemis mission in the viewfinder?
The Japanese company also wants to contribute to NASA’s Artemis program, whose first unmanned mission is underway. The American space agency intends to develop the lunar economy by building in the coming years a space station in orbit around the Moon, and a base on its surface.
It has awarded contracts to several companies to develop landers to transport scientific experiments to the Moon. Among them, the American companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines should take off in 2023, and could arrive at their destination before ispace by taking a more direct route, according to the specialized press.