Private Japanese firm to land rover on the surface of the Moon

Image credit: reuters

The first private venture to land on the surface of the Moon is set to take place later today with a spacecraft launched by Japanese startup ispace.

The Hakuto-R Mission 1 Lunar Lander is expected to make its landing around 16.40 GMT today (Tuesday) after spending some weeks orbiting the Moon in an elliptical orbit starting around 2,000km above the surface.

The lander’s onboard camera has already been used to take pictures of the Moon from space.

During the landing sequence, Hakuto-R will perform a braking burn, firing its main propulsion system to decelerate from orbit. Utilising a series of pre-set commands, the lander will adjust its attitude and reduce velocity in order to make a soft landing on the lunar surface. The process will take approximately one hour if completed successfully.

The lander originally took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket in December.

Speaking at a media briefing, ispace chief technology officer Ryo Ujiie likened the task of slowing down the lander to the correct speed against the Moon’s gravitational pull to “stepping on the brakes on a running bicycle at the edge of a ski jumping hill.”

Should conditions change, there are three alternative landing sites. Depending on the site chosen, the landing date may change. Alternative landing dates, depending on the operational status, are April 26, May 1 or May 3 2023.

After reaching the landing site at the edge of Mare Frigoris, in the Moon’s northern hemisphere, the M1 is expected to deploy a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) alongside Japanese toymaker Tomy Co and Sony, as well as the United Arab Emirates’ four-wheeled 'Rashid' Rover.

The rover is also carrying an experimental solid-state battery to gauge how the technology performs in the lunar environment.

Japan harbours big ambitions for its space sector, including the goal of sending Japanese astronauts to the Moon by the late 2020s.

However, last month Jaxa lost its new medium-lift H3 rocket to forced manual destruction after it reached space. That incident came less than five months after the body’s solid-fuel Epsilon rocket failed after launch in October.

In 2020, soil and gas samples from the Ryugu asteroid were collected by Jaxa's Hayabusa2 probe in a complex manoeuvre that required collecting the sample through a controlled explosion and then travelling back to the Earth for delivery.

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