Japanese space company ispace aims to send landers to the Moon – TechCrunch

by Joseph K. Clark

After launching SpaceX rockets, Tokyo-based space has been selected to deliver rovers from Canada and Japan to the lunar surface. The company will use its recently revealed Hakuto-R lander for both missions scheduled for 2022 and 2023.

The Canadian Space Agency selected three private Canadian companies to ride the lander, each with separate scientific missions. Mission Control Space Services, Canadensys, and NGC are the first companies to receive awards under the CSA’s Capability Demonstration program, part of the agency’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program. LEAP, unveiled by the Canadian government in February 2020, earmarks $150 million over five years to support in-space demonstrations and science missions from Canadian private industry.

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As part of the mission, the space lander will deliver the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) ‘s 22-pound rover, “Rashid.” The rover will be equipped with an artificial intelligence flight computer from space robotics company Mission Control Space Services. Mission Control’s AI will use deep-learning algorithms to recognize lunar geology as the Rashid rover traverses the surface.

Space will carry cameras “to capture key events during the mission” for Canadensys. The Japanese company will also collect lunar imagery data for the demonstration of NGC’s autonomous navigation system.

“We are honored that all three of the companies awarded by CSA have each entrusted ispace’s services to carry out their operations on the lunar surface,” space founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement. “We see this as a show of the trust that space has developed with CSA over the past years, as well as a recognition of space’s positive position in the North American market.”

Space will also be transporting a transformable lunar robot payload to the moon for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in addition to conducting operations and providing lunar data. The data collected on this mission, Mission 2, will aid the design of a future crewed pressurized rover.

JAXA’s lunar robot will be around 80mm in diameter before it transforms to its surface form and weighs only about 250 grams. That mission is scheduled to take place in 2023. space did not disclose the financial terms of the deals.

“While the robot travels on the lunar surface, images on the behavior of the regolith, and images of the lunar surface taken by the robot and the camera on the lunar lander will be sent to the mission control center via the lunar lander,” JAXA said in a news release. “The acquired data will be used for evaluation of the localization algorithm and the impact of the regolith on driving performance of the crewed pressurized rover.”

Espace unveiled their Hakuto-R lander design in July 2020. The Hakuto project was born out of the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, in which teams competed to be the first to send a lunar rover to the moon, have it travel 500 meters, and send back to Earth photos and video. None of the five finalists, including Hakuto, completed a launch, and the competition subsequently ended in 2018 without a winner.

The MBRSC and JAXA rovers will have different deployment mechanisms from the landers, though Hakamada did not provide further details during a media briefing Wednesday.

The landers are being assembled in Germany, and the assembly phase has just started, Hakamada said. “So we’re very confident we will meet this schedule,” he added.

Using water on the lunar surface is one of the space’s long-term objectives. The company hopes to have more capability in the future to sustain resource utilization activities, Hakamada said.

This is only one of several lunar missions launching on SpaceX rockets. NASA announced in April that the space startup was selected to send humans to the lunar surface as part of its Artemis project, at a total award value of $2.89 billion. SpaceX will also be taking payloads from Firefly Aerospace to take up its lunar lander in 2023.

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