While the Orion spacecraft, a key part of, is on its way back to Earth after going far beyond the moon, a new lunar lander from Japan and a small rover from the United Arab Emirates are set to blast off from Florida early Thursday.
The Hakuto R mission is led by the private Japanese company iSpace and will send its M1 lander, which is about the size of a chest freezer, to the surface of the moon.
“Our first mission will lay the groundwork for unleashing the moon’s potential and transforming it into a robust and vibrant economic system,” said Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of iSpace, in a statement.
Hakamada added that the company is hoping to contribute to the Artemis program. The US space agency has already committed to buy moon rocks that M1 will collect.
The lander and rover will lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which will then land its first-stage booster about 10 minutes later at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
iSpace was one of the finalists in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which ended back in 2018 without any winners being declared. But it did raise funds to continue on its own and secure some customers with similar lunar ambitions. That’s how a rover named Rashid from the UAE’s space program wound up on board M1.
Rashid is set to study moon dust and will send images and data back to Earth.
If the mission succeeds, Japan and the UAE will join the US, Russia and China as the only nations that have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface. Another Lunar X Prize finalist, Israel’sin 2019, but the mission ended with a crash into the moon that destroyed the spacecraft.
The lander has a long journey between blastoff and touchdown on the moon, performing months’ worth of tests in space before arrival at the Atlas crater on the near side of the moon, which is scheduled for April.
After a handful of delays, the launch is now set for 12:37 a.m. PT (3:37 a.m. ET) Thursday from Cape Canaveral.
You can watch the mission via the livestream below.