Will this Japanese moon lander make history?

Hakuto-R could be the first private lander to land on the Moon. The machine, which carries a small rover developed by the United Arab Emirates, will be launched in late November by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The private to the attack of the moon

Hakuto-R is a lander signed by the Japanese company ispace. Its launch is scheduled for next November 29 of a Falcon 9 rocket as secondary payload. Hakuto-R, which will land in a basaltic plain called Lacus Somniorum, at mid-lunar latitudes, will take with it a small rover called Rashid 1, developed by the United Arab Emirates.

With a mass of only ten kilograms, Rashid 1 will be the smallest rover to land on the Moon. Equipped with two cameras, a thermal imager, a microscopic imager and an instrument to study its electrically charged environment, it will be active for only a single lunar day (about fourteen Earth days).

The spacecraft (which includes the lander and rover) will take a low-energy trajectory rather than a direct approach. The journey will therefore be longer. A priori, landing must take place in March 2023.

If all goes according to plan, Hakuto-R could be the first private lander to land on the Moon. However, two other machines also claim this title. The company Intuitive Machines plans to launch its Nova-C lunar lander in March 2023, while the Peregrine lander, built by the firm Astrobotic, will take off in the first quarter of next year. These two companies will operate on behalf of NASA.

At this early stage, it is difficult to predict which of these three landers will land first. Also remember that it is very complicated to land gently on the surface of the moon. As an illustration, three years ago, almost eight weeks after its launch, the first private mission to land on the Moon (the Beresheet lander from the Israeli company SpaceIL) crashed to earth. Its main engine had failed during its descent. A priori, SpaceIL will try its luck again in 2024.

Main stages of the Hakuto-R landing process. Credit: ispace

Another one lands in very bad condition

It will therefore be a real baptism of fire for ispace, which aims to demonstrate its landing in order to be able to sign other contracts. Ultimately, the company would like to help activate a human settlement on the Moon.

Note that if this mission succeeds, Hakuto-R may not be the first Japanese to land on the Moon. Among its many payloads, the Artemis 1 lunar mission carried a small Japanese space agency (JAXA) lander named OMOTENASHI. Unfortunately, the small spacecraft appears to be in very poor condition. The day after the SLS took off, contact was actually lost with the CubeSat, whose batteries were dead due to the rocket’s various launch delays. However, a loss of contact may involve a loss of orientation control.

The chances of resuming communication with the device now seem very slim. However, the teams hope that the small lander can still orient itself towards the Sun to charge its batteries again. Once activated it should start emitting radio waves again so why not try landing in the next few weeks.

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