Will this Japanese lunar lander make history?

Hakuto-R could be the first private lander to land on the Moon. The machine, which carries with it a small rover developed by the United Arab Emirates, will be launched at the end of November by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The private to the assault of the Moon

Hakuto-R is a lander signed by the Japanese company ispace. Its launch is scheduled for next November 29 by a Falcon 9 rocket as a secondary payload. Hakuto-R, which must land in a basaltic plain called Lacus Somniorum, at mid-lunar latitudes, takes with it a small rover called Rashid 1, developed by the United Arab Emirates.

With a mass of only ten kilos, Rashid 1 will be the smallest rover to land on the Moon. Equipped with two cameras, a thermal imager, a microscopic imager and an instrument to study its electrically charged environment, it will only be active for a single lunar day (about fourteen Earth days).

The spaceship (which incorporates the lander and rover) will take a low-energy trajectory rather than a direct approach. The journey will therefore be longer. A priori, landing should take place in March 2023.

If all goes according to plan, Hakuto-R could be the first private lander to land on the Moon. However, two other machines also claim this title. The Intuitive Machines company plans to launch its Nova-C lunar lander in March 2023, while the Peregrine lander, built by the Astrobotic company, will take off in the first quarter of next year. These two companies will operate on behalf of NASA.

At this early stage, it is difficult to predict which of these three landers will land first. Remember also that it is very complicated to land gently on the lunar surface. As an illustration, three years ago, almost eight weeks after its launch, the first private mission to land on the Moon (the Beresheet lander from the Israeli company SpaceIL) crashed on the ground. Its main engine had failed during its descent. A priori, SpaceIL will try its luck again in 2024.

Main stages of the Hakuto-R landing process. Credit: ispace

Another lander in very bad shape

It will therefore be a real baptism of fire for ispace which aims to demonstrate the capabilities of its lander in order to sign other contracts. Ultimately, the company would like to help enable a human settlement on the Moon.

Note that if this mission is successful, Hakuto-R may not be the first Japanese lander on the Moon. Among its many payloads, the Artemis 1 lunar mission carried a small lander from the Japanese space agency (JAXA) named OMOTENASHI. Unfortunately, the small spacecraft seems in very bad shape. The day after the SLS took off, contact was indeed lost with the CubeSat, whose batteries were drained due to the various launch delays of the rocket. However, a loss of contact could involve a loss of orientation control.

The chances of resuming communications with the device now seem very slim. However, the teams hope that the small lander can still reorient itself towards the Sun to charge its batteries again. Once activated, it should start emitting radio waves again, and why not try landing in the next few weeks.

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