EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated at 23:15 EST on November 29 (04:15 GMT on November 30) with SpaceX announcing the launch delay.
The commercial lunar rover, developed by Japan’s ispace, is awaiting launch from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will send it on a five-month trajectory that will culminate in a lunar landing attempt next year. This achievement could make ispace the first private company to accomplish the feat.
The one-ton Hakuto-R robotic lander is ready for launch from the Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX canceled the launch attempt early Wednesday to allow time for “additional pre-flight inspection,” then announced a longer delay later Wednesday. A new launch date was not immediately available.
The Falcon 9 rocket will propel the spacecraft a million miles from Earth, far beyond the moon, for a long but economical fuel run before it enters lunar orbit next April.
Once in lunar orbit, the ispace lander will fire its main engine to autonomously descend to the lunar surface, targeting a landing in the northern hemisphere of the moon.
The lunar lander mission is the culmination of 12 years of engineering development and fundraising, an effort that has included launches, stops and complete scope changes.
The Google Lunar X Prize, a sweepstakes that offered a top prize of $20 million to the first private team to launch a lander on the moon, was the initial impetus for Takeshi Hakamada to start the company that eventually became ispace. Hakamada’s group, called Hakuto, worked to develop a lunar rover to travel to the moon on another lander. But the Google Lunar X Prize ended in 2018 without a winner, leading to some teams disbanding or struggling to find a new goal.
Hakamada refocused ispace’s efforts on designing and developing its own lunar lander, a reboot the firm calls Hakuto-R. Hakuto means “white rabbit” in Japanese.
“Since then, our mission has shifted from the Lunar X Prize to the larger transportation business,” Hakamada told Spaceflight Now. “We plan to launch our first mission on November 30. This will be the first private mission to land on the moon, and we are going to bring a payload from both the government and the private sector. This will open the door to future commercial cislunar industries.”
As of July, the company had secured $237 million in equity financing and bank loans to pay for the Hakuto-R lunar transport program, though ispace did not disclose the cost of the mission, which launches this week. The company says it “specializes in the design and construction of lunar landers and rovers.”
ispace’s goal is to “expand human life into space and create a sustainable world by providing high-frequency, low-cost transportation services to the moon,” according to the company’s website.
The first Hakuto-R lander, which ispace calls Mission 1, will carry about 24 pounds (11 kilograms) of payload to the lunar surface, according to Hakamada. By far the largest of the payloads is the rover from the United Arab Emirates, developed by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center. Although the rover takes up most of the payload capacity of the Hakuto-R lander, it is still small in stature, measuring just 21 by 21 inches (53 by 53 centimeters).
The lander also tows an even smaller mobile robot developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Japanese toy company Tomy. The so-called transformed lunar robot weighs just half a pound (250 grams) and is about 3 inches (80 millimeters) wide before it deploys tiny wheels to roll across the surface of the moon and collect data and images to help design a future pressurized rover to transport astronauts to the moon.
A payload from NGK Spark Plug, another Japanese company, will test the performance of solid-state batteries. The Hakuto-R landing craft also has payloads from three Canadian companies: wide-angle cameras from Canadensys, an artificial intelligence flight computer from Mission Control Space Services and a crater autonomous navigation system demonstration from NGC Aerospace.
First, the ispace lander must reach the moon. US, Soviet Union, and Chinese government missions have landed on the moon, but ispace uses a commercial business model.
“Our mission is privately funded,” Hakamada said. “However, we do have some relationships with governments, such as our payload from the UAE Space Agency and MBRSC, and we also have a JAXA payload. But even these payloads are commercial contracts with no government R&D funding, which is quite different from past government collaborations.”
Hakamada’s investors include Suzuki, Japan Airlines, Japan Development Bank, Konica Minolta, Dentsu, and numerous venture capital and equity funds.
Fundraising enabled ispace to purchase spare parts for the Hakuto-R lander from suppliers around the world. The hydrazine-fueled propulsion system comes from ArianeGroup, which also helped ispace complete the final assembly of the lander in Germany. Draper, based in Massachusetts, provides guidance, navigation and landing control software. Draper served in a similar role on NASA’s Apollo missions. The solar panels were supplied by Sierra Space.
“As our first mission, my strategy was to accelerate speed to market,” Hakamada said. “To do this, we recognized that becoming a systems integrator was key to accelerating the speed of development. As we develop each of the components, it takes time. There is technology for that, and it is important how to integrate the technology into one system with enough funds.”
The first Hakuto-R lander, which ispace calls its Series 1 design, weighs about 2,200 pounds (1 metric ton) with a full load of launch fuel. About two-thirds of its launch mass is hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide to power the lander’s engines. With the legs extended, the landing module is 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) and 8.5 feet (2.6 meters) wide.
After liftoff from Cape Canaveral, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will head east over the Atlantic Ocean and close its first booster stage less than two and a half minutes into the flight. The reusable first stage, flying for the fourth time, will return to Cape Canaveral for a propulsive landing.
Falcon 9’s second stage will fire twice to put the Hakuto-R lander on a high-speed trajectory and carry it far away from Earth. Separation of the landing module from the Falcon 9 upper stage is scheduled for the 46th minute of the mission. This will be followed by the activation of the spacecraft’s systems and the extension of its four landing legs.
A 31-pound (14-kilogram) hitchhiking payload for NASA, called the Lunar Flashlight, will deploy from the Falcon 9 nearly 53 minutes after launch. The Moonlight is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and will fly into a circular halo orbit around the Moon. Its mission will test a laser system to shine into the eternally dark craters near the Moon’s poles. The spacecraft will measure the light reflected from the moon’s surface, revealing the composition and abundance of water ice and other molecules hidden in the dark crater floor.
Through a series of course correction maneuvers, the ispace lander will follow a similar but independent path to its destination. It will reach a maximum distance of one million miles, or 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, before gravity pulls it back to the Moon. The Hakuto-R lander will fire engines that will be captured into lunar orbit and then prepared for final descent to the surface around the end of April.
“We call it a low-energy orbit because we can reduce our fuel consumption by using this orbit with help from the sun’s gravity,” Hakamada said. “To reduce the launch mass and lower the launch cost, we chose this orbit. But this orbit is similar to several recent missions that use a similar trajectory, such as NASA’s CAPSTONE mission or the Korean lunar orbiter. So we don’t think there’s much risk in that orbit.”
The target landing site is Atlas Crater, located in a region on the near side of the Moon called Mare Frigoris, or Sea of Cold. Engineers at the Mission Operations Center in Tokyo will monitor Hakuto-R’s flight to the Moon.
Ryo Ujiie, ispace’s chief technology officer, said the company has identified 10 major milestones for its first moon landing mission. The first milestone has already been achieved with the completion of preparations for the launch. This will be followed by the launch and deployment of the Hakuto-R spacecraft, the establishment of stationary operations, and the first orbital control maneuver within one to two days of liftoff.
Other milestones included completing one month of deep space operations, performing additional course corrections, entering lunar orbit, adjusting alignment with the landing site, and landing itself. The final goal will be to complete payload loading operations on the lunar surface.
Assuming a successful landing, the spacecraft is scheduled to operate for about 10 days after landing. long enough to deploy the UAE’s lunar rover and JAXA’s mobile robot. A stationary landing craft will transmit communications signals from the deployable payload back to Earth. The mission will end when the sun sets behind the landing site, and a two-week lunar night will begin.
In addition to the payload installed on the lander, ispace aims to fulfill the NASA contract with the first Hakuto-R mission. In 2020, NASA entered into contracts to purchase lunar regolith from commercial companies, including ispace for $5,000. All the agreements were relatively low in monetary terms.
The initiative is part of NASA’s Artemis satellite program. NASA wants to eventually contract with commercial companies to acquire resources, such as minerals and water, that could support a future lunar base. Transferring ownership of the lunar soil from a private company to NASA will help officials on both sides of the deal deal with legal and regulatory issues.
“This is only a conceptual transfer of ownership,” Hakamada said. Bits of dust kicked up by the landing gear are expected to settle on the feet of the lander’s legs.
“The regolith will come and cover the site, and we announce the capture of the lunar regolith and then transfer ownership of the regolith at that site. We’re not moving this regolith to another location, we don’t expect that for this first mission.”
Hakamada said ispace has a second contract to sell lunar regolith to NASA during the company’s next mission to the moon, scheduled for 2024. During that mission, ispace may try to scoop soil from the moon’s surface.
While the first Hakuto-R Series 1 lander is purely a commercial mission, ispace is working with Draper and other space companies to develop a larger robotic lander to carry up to half a ton of cargo to the moon for NASA. Draper and ispace won a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, contract earlier this year to deliver several NASA science instruments to the lunar surface in 2025.
The first two NASA CLPS missions will be piloted by astrobatic and intuitive machines. Both of these companies plan to launch their first privately developed landers next year.
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https://spaceflightnow.com/2022/11/29/japanese-commercial-moon-lander-uae-rover-ready-for-launch-on-spacex-rocket/ Japan commercial lunar lander, UAE rover ready to launch on SpaceX rocket – Spaceflight Now