SpaceX is now targeting Sunday (Dec. 11) for the launch of a private Japanese moon lander after a series of delays.
If all goes according to plan, a Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Tokyo-based company ispace's Hakuto-R lander toward the moon on Sunday at 2:38 a.m. EST (0738 GMT), SpaceX announced today. Sunday will be a big day for space fans: NASA's Orion capsule is scheduled to return to Earth that afternoon, wrapping up the agency's Artemis 1 moon mission.
The coming SpaceX flight, which will kick off ispace's Mission 1, was originally supposed to get off the ground last month. It has been pushed back several times, however, so SpaceX could perform additional checks on the Falcon 9.
SpaceX has not shared what those checks investigated. The company said in today's update that the Falcon 9 and the Hakuto-R lander, which is also carrying a small United Arab Emirates moon rover, are both "looking good for launch" no earlier than Sunday.
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Mission 1 isn't the only Falcon 9 flight to be pushed back recently. SpaceflightNow's launch calendar also shows delays for SpaceX's first launch of OneWeb internet satellites; the Group 4-37 batch of SpaceX's Starlink broadband spacecraft; a defense launch for the U.S. Space Development Agency; and the Surface Water and Ocean Topography satellite, a joint effort of NASA and the French space agency.
The most recent Falcon 9 mission was a cargo Dragon launch to the International Space Station on Nov. 26. SpaceX also conducted several other Falcon 9 launches and a single mission with a Falcon Heavy (which uses Falcon 9 first stages) in the month of November.
The Falcon 9 is the backbone of SpaceX's launch program and of the ever-growing Starlink megaconstellation, which consists of more than 3,200 active satellites at the moment.
The rocket is used widely across the space industry; it has lofted astronauts and deep-space probes for NASA and classified defense satellites for the U.S. military, for example.
The Falcon 9 has launched 186 times to date and is known for its high flight cadence and reliability. The rocket's first stage is reusable, and some boosters have now launched more than a dozen times.
With all of this history, heritage and success, it's a bit odd to see a series of delays with the Falcon 9. That said, Blue Origin suffered a failure in September during an uncrewed launch of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, which had enjoyed a long string of successes up to that point. That incident serves as a reminder that spaceflight is still hard, and nothing can be taken for granted.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.