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What Happened in the First Attempt at a Private Moon Landing

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

Touchdown was scheduled for 4:40 pm UTC today, or 12:40 pm EST. In Japan, it will be a less viewer-friendly 1:40 am on Wednesday. The livestream starts 40 minutes before landing time.

On December 11 last year, the Japanese company ispace launched the Hakuto-R M1 craft aboard a Falcon 9 rocket as part of its mission to become the first non-governmental Moon visitors. Today, they will be attempting a historic landing with the eyes of the world upon them, and you can watch it right here.

After a 135 day journey from Earth it will today attempt a touchdown, soon deploying a tiny Japanese Lunar Excursion Vehicle and a second lunar rover called Rashid, built by the UAE.

The latter makes this mission—called HAKUTO-R—the first Emirati and Arab lunar mission and it could prove to be the first step in establishing a “Moon shuttle” system for ispace that would give private companies affordable access to the lunar surface.

The HAKUTO-R mission is the culmination of the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition sponsored by the search engine that set a deadline of 2018—and offered a reward of $30 million—for the first privately funded organization to land a robot on the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit HD video and images back to Earth. Although the deadline passed, some of the competitors carried on—including Israel’s SpaceIL, which crash landed its spacecraft Beresheet on the Moon in April 2019.

The preferred landing site has been selected as Atlas Crater off Mare Frigoris, however, three alternative sites, with accompanying dates, have been selected.

The idea of private companies exploiting the Moon for commercial gain has plenty of detractors, but ispace argues we all depend on space-based infrastructure and will need more in the future. Even as technological developments reduce launch costs the price to put heavy objects in space will remain substantial.

“By taking advantage of lunar water resources, we can develop the space infrastructure needed to enrich our daily lives on earth, as well as expand our living sphere into space,” ispace writes on its website. “Also, by making the Earth and Moon one system, a new economy with space infrastructure at its core will support human life, making sustainability a reality. This result is our ultimate goal, and our search for water on the Moon is the first step to achieving that goal.”

Even if ispace makes it, however, it’s well behind schedule. Back in 2007, the Google Lunar XPRIZE offered $30 million for the first company to land a rover on the Moon and have it travel 500 meters (1,640 feet). ispace was one of 16 competitors, many of which made confident statements about meeting the original 2014 deadline. Despite two extensions the closest anyone has got was a crashlanding by the SpaceIL team in 2019.

If all goes to plan ispace may finally deploy a lunar lander next year. Something to keep in mind when people make big claims about how soon humanity will be setting foot on Mars.

This is what to expect as ispace attempts to land its HAKUTO-R lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. Credit: ispace

What is ispace?

ispace is a lunar exploration company based in Japan, Luxembourg and the U.S. that designs and builds lunar landers and rovers. Its corporate motto is “Expand our Planet. Expand our Future.” Its ambition is to take both government and private payloads to the Moon. So the ispace Series 1 Lunar Lander is the first step in establishing a structure for a transportation system to the surface of the Moon. Its founder and CEO is entrepreneur Takeshi Hakamada and investors include the Development Bank of Japan, Suzuki Motor, Japan Airlines and Airbus Ventures.

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CAA Team

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