A Japanese company that hopes to land people on the moon one day has unveiled the final design of its first robotic lunar lander, which will launch in2022 on a SpaceX rocket.
Tokyo-based ispace revealed the Hakuto-Reboot (Hakuto-R) lander design July 30, stating that the mission is now slated to touch down on the moon in 2022. That's a year later than a previous target, which aimed for a moon landing in 2021. Unspecified "technical issues" held up construction in recent months, ispace said, although the lander did pass a critical design review that allows for the hardware to be finalized for construction.
"The new target launch date was chosen in order to ensure higher reliability for Hakuto-R customers and overall mission success. The lander is still planned to launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket," ispace said in a statement.
The company has indicated an interest before in competing for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which aims to put private landers on the moon in support of human missions. NASA made its latest CLPS mission announcements in January.
In their new statement, ispace representatives did not give any updates about CLPS but did add that the first Hakuto-R moon landing will be part of a "multinational commercial lunar exploration program." The company is part of a team, led by the nonprofit Draper Laboratory, that hopes to put an Artemis-7 lander on the moon.But Draper has not received a CLPS contract award yet.
"Hakuto," which means "White Rabbit" in Japanese, was the name of the ispace-managed team for the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). The GLXP offered $20 million to the first private group to place a lander on the moon and to perform some tasks on the lunar surface. The contest concluded in 2018 with no winner, but several of the competing companies have continued to work on their designs.
The car-sized lander from ispace will have a mass of about 750 lbs. (340 kilograms) and will be a little more compact,with a lower center of gravity, than the preliminary design plans called for, the company added.
Hakuto-R's fuel tank is also reduced in size, as ispace decided to take a long, three-month path to the moon that will use less propellant. For comparison, the NASA Apollo moon missionsof the 1960s and 1970s took just three days to reach Earth's nearest neighbor. Hakuto-R'starget payload capacity of 66 lbs.(30 kg) is unchanged, however.
In August 2019, ispace pledged to put a rover on the moon in 2023, two years after the initial lander was supposed to be deployed. The new company statement maintains the 2023 landing date for that second mission.
Once ispace gets its initial exploration going, it has more ambitious plans. The company hopes to use lunar water ice to support human moon settlers and to produce rocket fuel. This moon propellant could be shipped to depots in space, allowing spacecraft to refuel before moving to other destinations in the solar system.
"We believe that by 2040 the moon will support a population of 1,000, with 10,000 people visiting every year," ispace's website reads. "ispace will be instrumental in supporting life on Earth through space-based infrastructure."
While ispace works through the delay, NASA said in April that it still plans to send two commercial deliveries to the moon next year under CLPS, despite the novel coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, long before the pandemic arose, NASA tasked three companies — Astrobiotic, Intuitive Machines and Orbit Beyond — to send science and technology projects to the moon in summer 2021.
Orbit Beyond dropped out, but Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are still working toward that goal.
"We are talking to them almost on a daily basis to assess any schedule impacts," Steven Clarke, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said during a presentation coordinated by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences on March 31. "Currently, we are still on schedule with them."
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