Japanese company ispace unveils new, bigger moon lander

Artist's illustration of ispace's Series 2 robotic lander on the surface of the moon.
Artist's illustration of ispace's Series 2 robotic lander on the surface of the moon. (Image credit: ispace)

A Japanese company that's already shooting for the moon has unveiled more ambitious plans for a bigger, better lunar lander.

The Tokyo-based company ispace unveiled its next-generation "Series 2" robotic moon lander Tuesday (Aug. 24) at the ​​36th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. The 9-foot-tall (2.7 meters) spacecraft, which can carry 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) of payload to the lunar surface, is scheduled to debut in 2024, on ispace's third moon mission.

"As we look to the near future, Series 2 will enable us to not only increase our capabilities, but also to provide greater access and opportunities for our customers," ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement. "Series 2 is a positive step toward realizing a diverse and sustainable cislunar ecosystem."

Lunar timeline: Humanity's exploration of the moon

ispace's first moon mission is scheduled to launch next year on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. On that flight, an ispace Series 1 lander will deliver to the lunar surface the United Arab Emirates' Rashid rover, as well as a number of other payloads for a variety of customers.

The lander for that mission is currently undergoing final assembly at a facility in Germany, ispace representatives said in Tuesday's statement. The company is targeting 2023 for the launch of its second moon mission, which is also expected to fly on a Falcon 9.

Then the moonlight will shine on the Series 2, which ispace plans to develop in partnership with American technology companies General Atomics and Draper. Work is already well underway on the new lander; it passed a key milestone known as preliminary design review in June, ispace representatives said.

The Series 2 "has a modular payload design with multiple payload bays, allowing for flexibility and optimization for a wider range of government, commercial and scientific customers," ispace representatives wrote in the same statement. 

"Notably, the lander aims to be one of the first commercial lunar landers capable of surviving the lunar night and is designed to have the ability to land on either the near side or far side of the moon, including polar regions," they added.

The polar regions are of great interest to NASA, which is working to establish a permanent, sustainable human presence on and around the moon through its Artemis program. That's because the permanently shadowed floors of many polar craters are thought to harbor huge amounts of water ice, a crucial resource for lunar development.

NASA plans to send a variety of scientific and technological hardware to the moon aboard robotic commercial spacecraft over the next few years to aid the ambitious Artemis effort. ispace hopes the Series 2 is an attractive option for the space agency, which is booking these rides via a program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).

"Over the next few months, we will work closely with Draper and General Atomics to prepare for the next NASA CLPS task order," Kyle Acierno, CEO of ispace US, a Denver-based subsidiary that the company established late last year, said in the same statement.

"With nearly 30 team members strong [at ispace US], we continue to grow in the US and are focused on broadening our collaboration with American partners," Acierno said.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.