SpaceX set to launch private lunar lander, plus NASA 'flashlight' probe

SpaceX set to launch private lunar lander, plus NASA ‘flashlight’ probe

Artistic impression of ispace's Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander.

Artistic impression of ispace’s Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander.
Image: ispace

SpaceX is preparing a Falcon 9 rocket for launch on early Wednesday morning. The mission, which includes private and public payloads, illustrates the current state of the spaceflight industry and the changing way we explore space.

It’s a fairly routine launch for SpaceX, but the mission packs a big punch. Packed aboard the Falcon 9 rocket is ispace’s Hakuto-R spacecraft, which itself is packed with an assortment of goodies bound for the lunar surface. Also on board is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Lunar Flashlight, a Moon-bound probe that will hunt water ice from the perspective of a rarely used orbit.

Mission ispace M1

The Falcon 9 is ready to launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 3:39 a.m. ET on Wednesday, November 30. If the launch needs to be cancelled, a backup opportunity is available on Thursday at 3:37 a.m. ET. The live stream must start 15 minutes before takeoff, which you can watch on SpaceX, Youtubeor during the live stream above.

The Falcon 9 first stage will attempt a vertical landing on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station approximately eight minutes into the mission. The deployment of the Hakuto-R spacecraft is scheduled to take place on 46-minute, with Lunar Flashlight deploying six minutes later.

The launch itself is not a big deal, but it has historical consequences. Hakuto-R, a product of Tokyo-based ispace, will attempt to deploy the company’s Mission 1 (M1) lander to the lunar surface. If Hakuto-R M1 lands safely and safely, ispace will become the first private company to accomplish this feat. A successful mission would launch a new era, one in which commercial vendors routinely deliver goods to the Moon. Indeed, ispace’s Hakuto-R 1 mission is the first of what the company hopes will be many low-cost deliveries to the lunar surface.

ispace Hakuto-R Mission 1 Profile and Milestones.

ispace Hakuto-R Mission 1 Profile and Milestones.
Chart: ispace

The Hakuto-R M1 lander will perform exploratory tasks as a stationary probe, but it will also attempt to deliver several payloads to the surface, including the 22-pound (10-kilogram) Rover Rashid built by the United Arab Emirates and a transformable ball-shaped robot, named SORA-Qdeveloped by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the TOMY toy company.

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Other Hakuto-R payloads include a AI-powered flight computer of the Canadian Space Agency, a moon camera developed by the Canadian company Canadensys, a solid-state battery, a CD containing the song “WRITEperformed by the Japanese group Sakanaction, and panel engraved with the names of crowdfunding supporters. The Hakuto-R M1 lander is scheduled to land in the Atlas crater of the Moon in April 2023.

Conceptual image showing the SORA-Q transformable robot working on the Moon.

Conceptual image showing the SORA-Q transformable robot working on the Moon.
Image: RoboSmart

Hakuto-R M1 is not the first attempt by a private company to launch a lander on the Moon. This distinction goes to Israel’s SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries, which, with the support of the Israeli Space Agency, attempted to place the Beresheet lander on the Moon in 2019. Unfortunately, computer glitches and communication issues led to Beresheet for crashing on the moon surface. The United States, the Soviet Union and China all succeeded in obtaining safe landers the lunar surface, but these were missions in the public space.

NASA lunar flashlight art print.

NASA lunar flashlight art print.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Falcon 9 will also launch JPL’s Lunar Flashlight, a probe designed to operate from a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re thinking NASA’s CAPSTONE probe, which recently became the first satellite to work in NRHO. CAPSTONE is preparing the ground for a future space station, called bridgebut Lunar Flashlight is on a different mission.

More on this story: NASA probe will look for lunar water where ‘no one else’ has looked

The suitcase-sized probe will come within 15 kilometers of the lunar south pole along its highly eccentric orbit, from where it will search for water ice in permanently shadowed craters. The lunar flashlight will use four infrared lasers to shine beams of light of different colors in wavelengths that can be absorbed by surface water ice. The more absorption observed, the more likely it is that ice exists on the surface.

“We’re bringing a literal flashlight to the Moon – lasers shining into these dark craters to look for definitive signs of water ice covering the top layer of lunar regolith,” Lunar Flashlight principal investigator Barbara Cohen told the NASA, in a statement. “I’m excited to see our mission contributing to our scientific understanding of where water ice is on the Moon and how it gets there.”

Like I said, there’s a lot to unpack with this launch. It all starts, fingers crossed, early tomorrow morning with the unpretentious launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

After: These Failed Moon Missions Remind Us That Space Is Tough

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