Story by Nadeem Sarwar
The race for commercial activity on the moon enters a new era with SpaceX’s next rocket launch on December 1, thanks to a payload that will become the first private lander on the moon. Originally scheduled for November 30, Japan’s ispace is now launching its HAKUTO-R Mission 1 aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in the early hours of Thursday (per SpaceX).
Touted to be the “first commercial lunar landing,” the ispace’s Series 1 lunar lander weighs 340 kilograms and has a payload capacity of 30 kilograms, which could be anything from a remotely controlled rover to science equipment. The compact lander is armed with its own thermal and radiation control assembly, secure payload compartments, propulsion system with three types of thrusters, and altitude adjustment gear.
If all things go well with the HAKUTO-R Mission 1, ispace is targeting regular delivery of both private and government payloads to the moon in the near future. Based on the tech at its disposal, the company is estimating a 3-5 month window for ferrying lunar payloads using the low-energy orbital path to save on fuel costs.
ispace has set a total of 10 objectives, starting with the execution of all pre-flight protocols to landing the vehicle on the Moon, establishing a stable communication channel, and ensuring a steady power supply for the payload. Based on the first mission’s success, ispace will accordingly make adjustments to the Mission 2 and Mission 3 goals, both of which are part of NASA’s Artemis program.
Space Commercialization Is Here
ispace already has NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) Program contract under its belt, which tasks the company with landing a vehicle on the far side of the Moon by the year 2025. The company separately has signed deals with NASA to mine and deliver lunar regolith and is also working with the European Space Agency to extract water on Earth’s natural satellite.
Company chief Takeshi Hakamada says ispace “utilized a design and development model that balanced reliability and low costs by employing proven technologies and components from around the world.” You can check out details of SpaceX’s next launch here, and plans for the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 here. The ispace Mission 1’s launch will be live-streamed here.
But ispace is not the only company in the race for space commercialization, and neither is it the most ambitious name in the game. Just over a year ago, NASA famously cut a $0.10 check to a company named Lunar Outpost for mining and delivering lunar surface samples to the space agency. Lunar Outpost is also working with Nokia to send a 4G LTE payload to the Moon.
Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin was awarded a $130 million contract last year to build a private space station called Orbital Reef. Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman have also won contracts worth $160 million and $125.6 million for similar objectives. SpaceX, on the other hand, has become the de-facto launch service provider for both private and government-backed space agencies.