Japanese startup ispace to launch moon lander missions on SpaceX rockets

An artistic illustration of the Japanese startup ispace is lander and rover (on slope) on the surface of the moon.


A Japanese company that aims to help humanity explore and settle the moon will fly the first two moon missions with SpaceX.

The Tokyo-based startup ispace is entered into for the launch of the lunar lander and mini-rovers as secondary cargo on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets in 2020 and 2021, representatives of both companies announced today (Sept. 26).

“We share the vision with SpaceX of enabling people to live in the space, so we are very happy that they will help us in this first step of our journey,” ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement. [Moon Base Visions: How to Build a Lunar Colony (Images)]

The two-phase the first step is known as Hakuto-Reboot, or Hakuto-R for short. The name is a reference to a Team Hakuto, a ispace-managed participant in the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP), a contest that promised $30 million in prizes for the first teams to successfully land privately built rovers on the moon. The GLXP ended earlier this year with the non-winners.

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The 2020 ispace mission will be considered a success if the lander reach lunar orbit, and representatives of the company said. The following year, the goal is to get a lander down gently on the surface of the moon, and deploy data-collecting rovers of the craft.

Both of these missions — which ispace is bankrolling via the Japanese record distance of more than $90 million in “Series A” investment funding technology demonstrations designed to lay the groundwork for the launch of the ambitious plans for the future. In the end, ispace wants to be a robot lunar transport and the use of bantam robbers to identify them and to help them to exploit the resources that are available on the Earth from the nearest neighbor, such as water-ice.

Such work could help lead to the establishment of a permanent settlement on the moon in the not-too-distant future, company representatives have said.

ispace also released images of the newly revamped lunar lander and rover today. The company had previously stated that the lander would be capable of toting 66 kg. (30 kilos) of cargo to the moon, and that the rover would be based heavily on the 9-lb. (4 kg) vehicle Team Hakuto was planning to start as part of the GLXP.

ispace is not the only company that is interested in selling of transport to the surface of the moon and tapping lunar resources. For example, the plans of the AMERICAN companies, Astrobotic, Blue Origin and the Moon Express seem to overlap at least somewhat with that of ispace.

“We are entering a new era in the exploration of space, and SpaceX is proud to have been selected by ispace to launch their first moon missions,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in the same statement. “We look forward to delivering their innovative spacecraft to the moon.”

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