Private Lunar Mission to Launch Next Week Includes UAE Rover, Transformable Robot and a Flashlight

A Japanese company that competed in the Google Lunar X Prize is set to launch a private mission to land on the moon next week that will deploy an United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) rover and a transformable robot that will provide data for the design of a pressurized rover that astronauts might one day drive across the surface. A NASA lunar orbiter will also be aboard that will search for water ice.

Rashid lunar rover (Credit: Wikieditsfxj)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch ispace’s Hakuto-R M1 lander to the moon on Nov. 28. The lander will carry 30 kg (69 lb) of commercial and government payloads to the moon, including cameras, technology demonstrations and UAE’s Rashid rover.

Rashid is a collaboration of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre and UAE Space Agency. The rover is equipped with a microscopic camera, a thermal imaging camera and a Langmuir probe that will study lunar plasma in an attempt to determine why moon dust is sticky. Rashid is the UAE’s first lunar mission.

Japan is sending a small transformable lunar robot the size of a baseball for deployment on the surface. The robot will obtain data about the surface that can be used to build a crewed pressurized rover that future explorers will use. The robot was jointly developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), TOMY Company, Sony Group Corporation and Doshisha University.

“The acquired data will be used for evaluation of the localization algorithm and the impact of the regolith on driving performance of the crewed pressurized rover,” JAXA said in a press release. “The transformable lunar robot will be an ultra-compact and ultra-lightweight robot that can traverse in the harsh lunar environment by employing the miniaturization technologies of TOMY Company and Doshisha University, the control technologies of Sony, and the development technologies for handling the space environment of JAXA.

Transformable lunar surface robot (Credit: JAXA)

“The robot has a feature to transform into a running form after arriving at the lunar surface, which contributes to a reduction in volume during transportation to the Moon. Therefore, it is expected to play active roles in future lunar exploration missions as well,” the space agency added.

Conceptual pressurized crewed lunar rover. (Credit: JAXA)

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Toyota Motor Corp. have been conducting joint research into a crewed pressurized rover named Lunar Cruiser that would be powered by electric vehicle fuel cell technologies.

NASA’s Lunar Flashlight orbiter will use a laser to search for water ice in permanently shadowed areas of the moon.  The 6U CubeSat was developed by a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Lunar Flashlight, flying as secondary payload on the first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, will examine the moon’s surface for ice deposits and identify locations where resources may be extracted. (Credit: NASA)

NASA had planned to launch Lunar Flashlight as a secondary payload aboard the Artemis I mission that launched an uncrewed Orion spacecraft to the moon last week. However, the CubeSat wasn’t ready in time for integration on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Ten 6U CubeSats were launched on the mission.

ispace was one of five finalists in the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition for the first private company to land a rover on the moon. The competition ended in March 2018 without a winner.

ispace continued on after the prize, raising private funding as the company planned a series of missions to the moon. ispace has subsidiaries in the United States and Europe.

ispace is the second Google Lunar X Prize team to attempt a lunar mission after the competition ended. Team SpaceIL of Israel attempted to land its Beresheet vehicle on the lunar surface on April 11, 2019. Beresheet crashed into the moon after its breaking maneuver failed. Team SpaceIL is currently developing the Beresheet 2 vehicle.