SpaceX is preparing to launch the world’s first private lunar probe: ScienceAlert
SpaceX is scheduled to launch the first private – and Japanese – lander on Wednesday The moon.
It’s a Falcon 9 rocket scheduled for launch at 3:39 a.m. (0839 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with a backup date of Thursday.
So far, only the US, Russia and China have managed to land a robot on the lunar surface.
The mission by the Japanese company ispace is the first of a program called Hakuto-R.
The lander will land around April 2023 on the visible side of the moon, in the Atlas Crater, according to a company statement.
Measuring just over 2 by 2.5 meters (6.5 by 8 feet), it carries aboard a 10-kilogram rover named Rashid, built by the United Arab Emirates.
The oil-rich country is a newcomer to the space race but has reported recent successes including a Mars probe in 2020. If successful, Rashid will be the Arab world’s first moon mission.
“We have accomplished so much in the six short years since we first began conceptualizing this project in 2016,” said ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada.
Hakuto was one of five finalists in the international Google Lunar XPrize competition, a challenge to land a rover on the moon before the 2018 deadline, which ended without a winner. But some of the projects are still ongoing.
Another finalist, from Israel’s SpaceIL, failed in April 2019 to become the first privately funded mission to achieve the feat after crashing into the surface while attempting to land.
ispace, which has just 200 employees, says it “aims to expand the realm of human life in space and create a sustainable world by providing high-frequency and low-cost transportation services to the moon.”
Future missions are slated to contribute to NASA’s Artemis program. Artemis-1, an unmanned test flight to the Moon, is currently underway.
The US space agency wants to develop the lunar economy in the coming years by building a space station in orbit around the moon and a base on the surface.
It has awarded contracts to several companies to develop landers to transport scientific experiments to the surface.
Among them, US companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are due to launch in 2023 and could arrive at their destination before ispace, taking a more direct route, according to reports.