NASA and billionaire-backed American space startups‘ grand dream of taking humans back to the moon now has a dashing new participant from Japan.
Late last month, Tokyo-based startup ispace revealed the final design of its lunar lander, Hakuto-Reboot (Hakuto-R), paving the way for the company to make its first touchdown on the moon as soon as 2022, using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The new expected launch date is almost a year behind ispace’s original timeline. “The new target launch date was chosen in order to ensure higher reliability for Hakuto-R customers and overall mission success,” the company said in a statement.
The Hakuto-R lander is a near-cubicle shaped spacecraft measuring about 7.5 feet in each dimension. It differs from previous American models in a few notable ways. The lunar lander weighs only 750 pounds and has a small target payload capacity of 66 pounds. It has a small fuel tank, too, which will be sufficient for slow voyage ispace has chosen. Hakuto-R’s trip to the moon will take about three months each way. For comparison, NASA’s Apollo missions took only three days to reach the moon.
Once successfully landing on the moon, ispace has other plans in the works, including putting a rover by 2023 and producing rocket fuel using water ice on the lunar surface.
In any case, ispace said its first flight will be a “multinational commercial lunar exploration program.” If everything goes according to the plan, Hakuto-R will likely be first deployed in one of NASA’s lunar missions. The U.S. space agency plans to send two deliveries to the moon next year under its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which is tasked to deliver research payloads to the moon ahead of a crewed mission (Artemis) scheduled for 2024.
ispace has expressed interests in being a NASA contractor under CLPS, but it hasn’t officially entered the competition. Right now, the company is part of a team led by Boston-based nonprofit Draper Laboratory, which has been awarded a CLPS contract.
Other private-sector contractors in NASA’s lunar project include SpaceX, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Jeff Bezos’ side hustle, Blue Origin, which has a bigger lunar lander designed for human missions.
“We are thrilled to see the variety of approaches from these companies,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of NASA’s Human Landing System program, said in April when she awarded the Blue Origin contract. “Beyond our goal to return humans to the Moon by 2024, this accelerated development will boost advances in critical systems for all lander types, human and robotic.”