Japan’s Ispace Attempts a Private Moon Landing: Live Updates

A race to the moon is back on, and this time, the visitors to the lunar surface will include private companies, not just national space agencies like NASA.

The first privately built visitor to land on the lunar surface intact could be a spacecraft called M1, the creation of Ispace, a start-up Japanese company. Here’s what you need to know about the mission.

When is the moon landing, and how can I watch it?

The M1 lander launched toward the moon in December, and it is already orbiting the moon. It will head to the surface on Tuesday around 12:40 p.m. Eastern time (it will be early Wednesday morning in Japan). The landing site is Atlas Crater, a 54-mile-wide crater in the northeast quadrant of the moon.

Ispace will start a livestream at 11:40 a.m. Eastern time.

What is Ispace, and what is it carrying?

The company started as a competitor for the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition that offered a $20 million prize for the first private spacecraft to land on the moon. The Lunar X Prize expired before any of the teams made it to the launchpad, but one of them, Team Hakuto, evolved into Ispace.

The company has attracted sizable investment, and Ispace plans to launch a series of commercial moon landers in the coming years.

On this mission, the Hakuto-R M1 lander carries the Rashid lunar rover from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai; a two-wheeled transformable lunar robot from JAXA, the Japanese space agency; a test module for a solid-state battery from NGK Spark Plug Company; an artificial intelligence flight computer; and 360-degree cameras from Canadensys Aerospace.

An artist’s concept of a lunar rover built by the company Ispace.Credit…Ispace

Why is Ispace trying to land on the moon?

In short, Ispace thinks there is money to be made on the moon.

Ispace is one of several companies building small robotic landers to carry scientific and commercial payloads there. That market is spurred in part by NASA’s current Artemis program, which aims to land astronauts near the moon’s south pole in the coming years.

As a Japanese company, Ispace cannot directly compete in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, but its U.S. subsidiary is part of the team led by Draper, which last year won a $73 million contract to deliver three NASA-sponsored science payloads on the far side of the moon. The Draper mission will largely use a bigger Ispace lander design that will be built in the United States.

Why is landing on the moon so difficult?

The United States and the Soviet Union each successfully put robotic spacecraft on the moon more than 50 years ago. More recently, China has landed robotic spacecraft on the moon three times.

However, getting there on a slim budget has proved trickier.

In 2019, spacecraft built by India’s space agency and an Israeli nonprofit tried to land on the moon, but they crashed. That added to the list of lunar hard landings.

A soft landing like the one Ispace is attempting largely requires the spacecraft to operate autonomously. There is only a short amount of time, and the ground is not going to move out of the way.

It also takes 1.3 seconds for light, including radio signals, to travel from the moon to Earth, and another 1.3 seconds for a signal from Earth to reach the spacecraft. That makes any adjustments during descent tricky and dangerous.

Ispace’s spacecraft could have an advantage that improves its chances. The guidance and navigation software for M1 was developed by Draper Laboratory, which made the guidance computer used during NASA’s Apollo moon landings.

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