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ispace Aims for Moon Landing on April 25

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
April 14, 2023
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ispace Aims for Moon Landing on April 25
The HAKUTO-R image shows the eastern rim of the Moon with the Petavius, Vendelinus, and Langrenus craters. (Credit: ispace)

In two weeks, ispace will attempt to boldly go where no private company has landed before: the surface of the moon. The Japanese exploration company has set April 25, 2023, as the earliest landing date for its HAKUTO-R spacecraft.

The spacecraft is scheduled to begin its hour-long landing sequence at 11:40 a.m. EDT (1540 UTC). HAKUTO-R will fire its main propulsion system to decelerate from its 100 km (62 mile) high orbit. The vehicle will further reduce its speed to make a soft landing in the Mare Frigoris region of the moon.

How ispace's HAKUTO-R spacecraft will land on the surface of the moon
HAKUTO-R landing sequence (Credit: ispace)

“Should conditions change, there are three alternative landing sites and depending on the site, the landing date may change. Alternative landing dates, depending on the operational status, are April 26, May 1, and May 3, 2023,” the company said in a press release.

ispace plans to live stream the landing attempt from its headquarters in Tokyo.

If successful, ispace will join the United States, China and Soviet Union in placing an lander on the surface. It would be an achievement that not even the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has accomplished.

The spacecraft has completed eight of its 10 mission milestones since it was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on December 11, 2022.

HAKUTO-R Mission Milestones

NumberMilestoneSuccess CriteriaStatus
1Completion of launch preparationComplete all development processes of the Series 1 lunar lander before flight operations
Contract and prepare launch vehicle, and complete integration of lunar lander into the launch vehicle
2Completion of Launch and DeploymentComplete successful separation of the lunar lander from the launch vehicle
Provide that the lander’s structure is capable of withstanding the harsh conditions of launch, validating the design and gathering information towards future developments and missions
3Establishment of a Steady Operation State (*Initial Critical Operation Status)Establish communication link between the lander and Mission Control, confirm a stable attitude, as well as start stable generation of electrical power in orbit. The completion of this step verifies the integrity of lander core systems and customer payloads
4Completion of first orbital control maneuverComplete the first orbital control maneuver, setting the lander on a course towards the Moon and verifying operation of the main propulsion system, as well as related guidance, control and navigation system
5Completion of stable deep-space flight operations for one monthProve that the lander is capable of steady deep-space flight by completing a nominal cruise and orbital control maneuvers over a one-month period
6Completion of all deep space orbital control maneuvers before LOIComplete all planned deep space orbital control maneuvers by utilizing gravity assist effects and successfully target the first lunar orbit insertion maneuver. This stage proves the ability of the lander’s deep-space survivability, as well as the viability of ispace’s orbital planning
7Reaching the lunar gravitational field/lunar orbitComplete the first lunar orbit insertion maneuver and confirm the lander is in a lunar orbit, verifying the ability of ispace to deliver spacecraft and payloads into stable lunar orbits
8Completion of all orbital control maneuvers in lunar orbitComplete all planned lunar orbital control maneuvers before the landing sequence
Confirm the lander is ready to start the landing sequence
9Completion of lunar landingComplete the landing sequences, verifying key landing abilities for future missions
10Establishment of a steady system state after lunar landingEstablish steady telecommunication and power supply on the lunar surface after landing to support customer payloads’ surface operations.
Source: ispace

“What we have accomplished so far is already a great achievement, and we are already applying lessons learned from this flight to our future missions,” said CEO and Founder Takeshi Hakamada. “I would like to once again express my heartfelt thanks to those who have worked so hard on this mission, including the engineers who are carrying out the long-term operations since our launch back in December.

“The stage is set. I am looking forward to witnessing this historic day, marking the beginning of a new era of commercial lunar missions,” Hakamada added.

HAKUTO-R lander is carrying 30 kg (66 lb) of commercial and government payloads, including:

  • United Arab Emirates’ Rashid lunar rover
  • Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)SORA-Q transformable lunar robot
  • NGK Spark Plug Company’s solid-state battery test module
  • Mission Control Space Services Inc.’s artificial intelligence (AI) flight computer
  • multiple 360-degree cameras from Canadensys Aerospace
  • music disc with the song “SORATO” performed by Japanese rock band Sakanaction, an original supporter of Team HAKUTO during Google Lunar XPRIZE
  • panel engraved with the names of Team HAKUTO crowdfunding supporters during Google Lunar XPRIZE.

ispace is planning a series of missions to the moon. The second lander, which is set to launch in 2024, will deploy a rover on the surface. The company recently went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

ispace is a commercial spinoff from Team HAKUTO, which was created in 2010 to compete in the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize competition for the first private company to land and operate a rover on the moon. The prize ended in 2018 without a winner. ispace is headquartered in Japan with subsidiaries in Luxembourg and Denver, Colorado.

ispace is the second private company to attempt a landing on the moon. SpaceIL’s Beresheet lander crashed during its landing attempt on April 11, 2019. The Israeli company also competed in the Google Lunar X Prize.

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