With SpaceX’s next rocket launch on December 1, a payload that will become the first private lander on the moon will usher in a new era in the race for commercial activity on the moon. Originally planned for November 30, Japan’s ispace will now launch its HAKUTO-R Mission 1 in the early hours of Thursday aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
The ispace Series 1 lunar lander, billed as the “first commercial lunar landing,” weighs 340 kilograms and has a payload capacity of 30 kilograms, which could include anything from a remotely controlled rover to science equipment. I outfitted the small lander with its own thermal and radiation control assembly, secure payload compartments, a propulsion system with three different thrusters, and altitude change gear.
If everything goes well with the HAKUTO-R Mission 1, ispace plans to deliver private and government payloads to the moon regularly soon. Based on the technology at its disposal, the company estimates a 3-5 month window for ferrying lunar payloads via the low-energy orbital path in order to save money on fuel.
ispace has set ten objectives, ranging from completing all pre-flight protocols to landing the vehicle on the Moon, establishing a stable communication channel, and ensuring the payload has a constant power supply. Based on the success of the first mission, ispace will change the Mission 2 and Mission 3 goals, which are both parts of NASA’s Artemis program.
ispace already has a contract with NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) Program, which requires the company to land a vehicle on the Moon’s far side by 2025. Separately, the company has signed agreements with NASA to mine and deliver lunar regolith, as well as with the European Space Agency to extract water from the moon.
Takeshi Hakamada, the company’s CEO, claims that ispace “used a design and development model that balanced reliability and low costs by utilizing proven technologies and components from around the world.” Details on SpaceX’s next launch can be found here, as can plans for the HAKUTO-R Mission 1. The launch of ispace Mission 1 will be live-streamed here.
However, ispace is not the only company competing for space commercialization, nor is it the most ambitious. NASA famously paid a company called Lunar Outpost $0.10 for mining and delivering lunar surface samples to the space agency just over a year ago. In addition, Lunar Outpost is collaborating with Nokia to send a 4G LTE payload to the Moon.
Blue Origin, which is backed by Jeff Bezos, was awarded a $130 million contract last year to build Orbital Reef, a private space station. Contracts worth $160 million and $125.6 million were also awarded to Nanoracks and Northrop Grumman for similar goals. In contrast, SpaceX has emerged as the de facto launch service provider for both private and government-backed space agencies.