Two more countries will join the moon-landing club next year, if all goes according to plan.
The United Arab Emirates' (UAE) robotic Rashid moon rover will be delivered to the lunar surface in 2022 by HAKUTO-R, a lander built by the Japanese company ispace, mission team members announced today (April 14).
The upcoming Emirates Lunar Mission will be the first moon landing for the Arab world and for Japan. To date, just three nations have soft-landed a spacecraft on the moon — the United States, the then-Soviet Union and China.
Lunar timeline: Humanity's exploration of the moon
Today's announcement also represents a significant timeline shift for the Emirates Lunar Mission. When the UAE first announced the project last fall, the target launch date was 2024.
"We are honored that MBRSC has entrusted ispace's lunar payload transportation service to play a key role in carrying out this historic moment for the UAE," ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement, referring to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, the UAE's space agency, which was founded in 2006.
"The world will be watching as our commercial lander carries the Rashid rover to the moon," Hakamada added. "We're pleased to advance collaboration between the UAE and Japan in space exploration, as well as to inspire more collaborations for lunar exploration between the public and commercial sector around the world."
The Emirates Lunar Mission will send the 22-lb. (10 kilograms) Rashid to an equatorial locale on the moon's near side. The final landing site has not yet been announced.
The little four-wheeled rover will study its surroundings for at least one lunar day, or about 14 Earth days, using a high-resolution camera, a thermal imager, a microscopic imager and a Langmuir probe. This latter instrument could help scientists better understand the electrically charged environment at the lunar surface, which is apparently caused by the solar wind, the stream of charged particles flowing constantly from the sun.
But Rashid's work will also help the UAE, and humanity in general, prepare for even bigger leaps in the future, if all goes according to plan.
"The Emirates Lunar Mission represents a milestone in the UAE's space sector, as the mission will contribute towards providing valuable data and information relating to the moon that will serve the global scientific community as well as test capabilities that would be crucial for manned missions to Mars," Adnan AlRais, senior director of the MBRSC's Remote Sensing Department, said in the same statement.
AlRais is also program manager of Mars 2117, an MBRSC initiative that aims to establish a human settlement on the Red Planet by that year. (The program was launched four years ago, with the goal of making a Mars colony happen within a century.)
The UAE has already tasted some Mars success, another first for an Arab nation. The country's robotic Hope probe began orbiting Mars in February and has beamed home some gorgeous views of the Red Planet.
The Emirates Lunar Mission will be the first moon trip for HAKUTO-R, which ispace has been developing for more than a decade. The company, which was established in 2010, managed Team HAKUTO, one of the five finalists in the Google Lunar X Prize, a private race to the moon that ended in 2018 without a winner.
ispace is planning to launch its second lunar mission, which will also include a rover deployment, in 2023. Both of those flights are expected to lift off aboard SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets, ispace representatives said.
Those two missions are envisioned to be just the beginning for ispace. Like the UAE, the Tokyo-based company has big ambitions in the final frontier.
"From Mission 3 and beyond, we will increase the frequency of lunar landings and rover expeditions to transport customer payloads to the moon," the company's website reads. "Our landers will deploy swarms of rovers to the lunar surface to pioneer the discovery and development of lunar resources, enabling the steady development of lunar industry and human presence on the moon."
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.