The moon landing in Japan would be the first by a private company

Graphic of the lander on the Moon

Artist’s impression of the Hakuto-R spacecraft. on the lunar surface

A Japanese company hopes to land an unmanned probe on the moon on Tuesday.

If successful, the Hakuto-R M1 mission would be the first time a private company has landed on the lunar surface.

Once there, the lander will deploy a tennis ball-sized two-wheeled robot developed by a Japanese toymaker and a rover from the United Arab Emirates.

Only the United States, Russia and China have successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon.

The spacecraft is scheduled to land at 1740 BST (1640 GMT).

Takeshi Hakamada, CEO of the iSpace company, told BBC News he hoped the mission would be the start of a series of commercial missions.

“I think this represents a big change,” he said. “This will open up more opportunities for other private companies and even small countries to do lunar exploration in the future.”

Hakuto in the clean room

The lander is small and light compared to other spacecraft that have been sent to the Moon

The spacecraft was launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company last December from Cape Canaveral, Florida, which was the space center from which the Apollo moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s took off. .

Those missions took only a few days to reach lunar orbit, but it took Hakuto-R five months. This was because she had a much less powerful propulsion system in order to save fuel and reduce costs.

The lander is just over 2 meters tall and weighs 340 kg, relatively small and compact by lunar spacecraft standards. It will begin a one-hour landing maneuver from its orbit, about 100 km above the surface, where it is moving at nearly 6,000 km/hour.

Upon reaching the landing site in the northern hemisphere of the Moon, Hakuto-R will deploy two payloads.

One is the UAE’s Rashid Rover, which will analyze the lunar soil, its geology and atmosphere. The other is the Sora-Q mini-rover, a ball-shaped robot that will roll on the surface. It was made by the TOMY toy company, which created the Transformers. It measures 8 cm in diameter and weighs approximately 250 grams.

The spacecraft also carries an experimental solid-state battery and other instruments to test their performance on the Moon.

But the main purpose of the mission is to evaluate the feasibility of commercial launches on the lunar surface. It’s iSpace’s first test of what they hope will be a series of commercial landers over the next few years, each more ambitious than the last.

The company’s vision is to provide commercial services for a sustained human presence on the lunar surface, such as shipping equipment for mining and rocket fuel production.

According to Dr Adam Baker, who is a director of an uninvolved space consultancy, Rocket Engineering, a successful landing would represent a “step change” in commercial involvement in space exploration.

“If it’s affordable and can be repeated, it opens the door for anyone willing to pay the price to land something on the surface of the Moon,” he said.

But Dr Bleddyn Bowen, a space expert at Leicester University, is more cautious about the commercial potential of lunar exploration, citing the recent collapse of British rocket launch firm Virgin Orbit as an example of the difficulties of making money from space.

“Even if this first test is successful, whether the business model will work is another matter,” he said. “Often the economic challenges are greater than the technological ones.”

“Getting to the moon is extremely expensive, so anything that a private company would like to make a profit on would have to be extremely profitable to justify the costs involved.”

You can watch a live stream of the landing attempt here.

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