SpaceX will launch a private lunar lander alongside NASA’s Flashlight probe
SpaceX is preparing a Falcon 9 rocket for launch early wednesday morning. The mission, which includes both private and public payloads, illustrates the current state of the spaceflight industry and the changing way we explore space.
It’s a fairly routine launch for SpaceX, but the mission packs a big punch. Packed aboard the Falcon 9 rocket is ispace’s Hakuto-R spacecraft, itself packed with an assortment of goodies destined for the lunar surface. Also on board is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Lunar Lantern, a lunar-bound probe that will search for water ice from the perspective of a rarely used orbit.
Falcon 9 is ready for launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 3:39 a.m. ET on Wednesday, November 30. If the launch has to be aborted, a backup option is available on Thursday at 3:37 a.m. ET. The live broadcast should start 15 minutes before take-off for you to watch SpaceX, YouTubeor in the live stream above.
The Falcon 9 first stage will attempt a vertical landing at Landing Zone 1 at the Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral approximately eight minutes after the mission begins. The launch of the Hakuto-R spacecraft is scheduled to take place on the 46thminute, with Lunar Flashlight unfolding six minutes later.
The launch itself is not a big deal, but it carries historical consequences. Hakuto-R, a product of Tokyo-based ispace, will attempt to place the company’s Mission 1 (M1) lander on the lunar surface. If the Hakuto-R M1 lands safely and soundly, ispace will become the first private company to achieve this feat. A successful mission would usher in a new era in which commercial suppliers routinely deliver goods to the moon. Indeed, ispace’s Hakuto-R 1 mission is the first of what the company hopes will be very low-cost deliveries to the lunar surface.
The Hakuto-R M1 lander will perform exploration duties as a stationary probe, but will also attempt to deliver several payloads to the surface, including the 22-pound (10-kilogram Rashid Rover built by the United Arab Emirates and a transformable ball-like robot called SORA-Qdeveloped by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and TOMY toy company.
Other Hakuto-R payloads include an AI Flight Computer by the Canadian Space Agency, a moon chamber developed by the Canadian company Canadensys, a solid battery, a CD containing the song “WRITE” performed by the Japanese group Sakanaction and a panel engraved with the names of crowdfunding supporters. The Hakuto-R M1 lander is expected to land in the Moon’s Atlas Crater in April 2023.
The Hakuto-R M1 is not the first attempt by a private company to launch a lander on the moon. This distinction belongs to Israel’s SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, who, with the support of the Israel Space Agency, tried to place the Beresheet lunar lander in 2019. Unfortunately, computer problems and communication problems resulted Beresheet to crash on the lunar surface. The United States, the Soviet Union, and China were able to obtain landing safely for the lunar surface, but these were public space missions.
Falcon 9 will also launch JPL’s Lunar Flashlight, a probe that is designed to operate from a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. If this sounds familiar, probably because you think of NASA’s CAPSTONE probe, which recently became the first satellite to operate in NRHO. CAPSTONE sets the stage for a future space station called Gatewaybut the Lunar Flashlight is on a different mission.
More on this story: NASA’s probe will look for lunar water where “no one else” has looked
The suitcase-sized probe will approach within 9 miles (15 kilometers) of the moon’s south pole on its highly eccentric orbit, from where it will search for water ice in permanently shadowed craters. The Lunar Flashlight will use four infrared lasers to emit beams of differently colored light at wavelengths that can be absorbed by surface water ice. The more absorption observed, the greater the potential for surface ice to exist.
“We’re bringing a literal flashlight to the Moon — shining lasers into these dark craters to look for definitive signs of water ice covering the upper layer of the lunar regolith,” said Barbara Cohen, NASA’s Lunar Flashlight principal investigator, in statement. “I’m excited to see our mission contribute to our scientific understanding of where the moon’s water ice is and how it got there.”
Like I said, a lot to unpack with this launch. It all kicks off, fingers crossed, early tomorrow morning with the low-key launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.