A Japanese startup is on the brink of becoming the first private company to land a craft on the Moon.
In what would also be a first for Japan, ispace Inc’s HAKUTO-R mission launched from Florida on Sunday with the mission of putting a small NASA satellite into lunar orbit.
The national space agencies of the United States, Russia and China have achieved soft landings on the Moon but no companies have.
A successful mission would also be a milestone in space cooperation between Japan and the US at a time when China is becoming increasingly competitive and rides on Russian rockets are no longer available in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
The name HAKUTO refers to the white rabbit that lives on the moon in Japanese folklore, in contrast to the Western idea of a man on the moon.
The project was a finalist in the Google Lunar XPRIZE before being revived as a commercial venture.
The ispace craft aims to put its satellite into lunar orbit to search for water deposits before touching down in the Atlas Crater.
The M1 lander will deploy two robotic rovers, a two-wheeled, baseball-sized device from Japan’s JAXA space agency and the four-wheeled Rashid explorer made by the United Arab Emirates.
It will also be carrying an experimental solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug Co.
Privately funded ispace has a contract with NASA to ferry payloads to the moon from 2025 and is aiming to build a permanently staffed lunar colony by 2040.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara