A private Japanese lander takes off for the Moon on Wednesday

A SpaceX rocket is due to take off on Wednesday with a Japanese-built lander on board, which could become the first private – and Japanese – machine to land on the Moon.

Liftoff of the Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled for 3:39 a.m. Wednesday (0839 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida. A fallback date is scheduled for Thursday if necessary.

So far, only the United States, Russia and China have managed to land robots on the Moon, located about 400,000 km from Earth.

This mission of the Japanese company ispace is the first of a program called Hakuto-R. The lander, which measures just over 2 meters by 2.5 meters, is due to land around April 2023 on the visible side of the Moon, in the Atlas crater, according to a company statement.

The lander, which is not designed for a human crew, carries a small 10-kilogram rover, named Rashid, and built by the United Arab Emirates. This country is a newcomer to the space race, and has been trying to establish itself there in recent years. If successful, it will be the first lunar mission for an Arab country.

“We have accomplished so much in six short years, since we started conceptualizing this project in 2016,” ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement.

This company’s Hakuto project was one of five finalists in the international Google Lunar XPrize competition, which ended without a winner, as no company managed to land a robot on the moon before the set date (2018). But some projects have not been abandoned.

Another finalist, from the Israeli organization SpaceIL, failed in April 2019 to become the first privately funded mission to achieve the feat. The lander had crashed on the surface while trying to land.

Ispace, which has only some 200 employees, intends for its part to set up “a frequent and low-cost transport service to the Moon”.

The Japanese company also wants to contribute to NASA’s Artemis program, whose first unmanned mission is currently underway. The American space agency intends to develop the lunar economy by building in the coming years a space station in orbit around the Moon, and a base on its surface.

It has awarded contracts to several companies to develop landers to transport scientific experiments to the Moon. Among them, the American companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines should take off in 2023, and could arrive at their destination before ispace by taking a more direct route, according to the specialized press.

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