Japanese lunar rover with two Mars rovers and other payload on board launched using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday, with the possibility of becoming the first commercial spacecraft to land on the Moon.
The launch of the lunar probe Hakuto-R of the Tokyo company Ispace Inc. from the Cape Canaveral Spaceport in Florida was delayed after two reschedulings. The launch of the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. ship scheduled for the end of November was twice postponed for additional pre-flight tests of the rocket.
Hakuto-R Mission 1 will orbit the Moon and is expected to land inside Atlas Crater approximately at the end April. It has two rovers on board: one from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the other – the Rashid rover from the United Arab Emirates. Also on board there is an experimental solid-state battery from NGK Spark Plug Co, a music CD with the song SORATO by the Japanese rock band Sakanaction, and other cargo.
The “space rivalry” between the US and China and Elon Musk’s ambitious Mars exploration program have pushed startups around the world to seek new contracts to extract resources on the surface of the moon and further into space.
Similar to Musk’s goal of building a colony on Mars, Ispace wants to build a human settlement of about 1,000 people on the moon by 2040. The company plans to ship equipment to the Moon to make it a habitable commercial hub.
The success of Ispace will contribute to the development of Japan’s own space program. JAXA signed a contract with Mitsubishi Electric Corp. to build the nation’s first lunar lander for a possible launch in 2019, but that program has been stuck in delays. Last year, Japan’s Lunar Industry Prospects Council recommended increased cooperation between the public and private sectors to support the competitiveness of the nascent space economy.