located in Tokyo ispace said Monday its Hakuto-R lunar lander is on track to reach the moon by the end of April.
ispace launched the lander aboard a Falcon 9 in December; since then, the spacecraft has traveled approximately 1,376 million kilometers, the farthest a privately funded, commercially operating spacecraft has ever traveled into deep space. The company expects all Earth space maneuvers to be completed by mid-March, followed by placement in lunar orbit by the end of March.
Ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said at a press briefing Monday that the flight has provided operational data that will inform future missions. “We’ve acquired tons of data and know-how” about the lander and its subsystems, he said. “They are very viable assets for ispace.”
That includes information about the lander’s structural performance during launch and deployment, as well as the performance of thermal, communications and power subsystems.
“It’s almost impossible to take on everything perfectly for the mission,” Hakamada said. “It is inevitable to face off-nominal events.” Some unusual occurrences in the mission so far include thermal temperatures that are hotter than the company expected and brief, unexpected communications problems after the lander was deployed from Falcon 9. The thermal issues have not affected operations.
The company has two more missions planned, aptly named Mission 2 and Mission 3, scheduled for 2024 and 2025, respectively. Mission 2 will be the next technical demonstration of the Hakuto-R lander system, and also a test of an ispace “microrover” that will collect data. will collect on the lunar surface. Ispace’s ultimate goal is to jump-start the lunar economy, largely through resource exploration and extraction; both the lander and rover will be important sources of information gathering as the company plans future missions.
The company will also send commercial payloads to the lunar surface for Mission 2, from companies such as Takasago Thermal Engineering Co., Euglena Co. and the Department of Space Science and Engineering at National Central University in Taiwan.
Ispace has several plans for mission 3. That mission is being developed together with aerospace contractor Draper, General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems and Systima Technologies, a division of Karman Space and Defense. Ispace acts as a design agent and subcontractor for that mission. The companies won a $73 million contract from NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program to deliver science payloads to the moon. Ispace also plans to send commercial payload customers in addition to the scientific payloads. The companies currently negotiating final payload service agreements are AstronetX, ArkEdge Space, Aviv Labs, and CesiumAstro.