Japanese startup launches historic Moon mission

Elon Musk's SpaceX carries out the launch at Cape Canaveral in US state of Florida


Japanese startup launches Moon mission۔— AFP/File
Japanese startup launches Moon mission۔— AFP/File
  • Japanese startup's spacecraft has been launched to the Moon.
  • Elon Musk's SpaceX carries out launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. 
  • So far only US, Russia and China have managed to put a robot on lunar surface.

WASHINGTON: A Japanese startup's spacecraft was launched to the Moon Sunday in the country's first-ever lunar mission and the first of its kind by a private company.

The launch was carried out by Elon Musk's SpaceX at Cape Canaveral in the US state of Florida after two postponements for additional pre-flight checks.

The spacecraft, produced by Tokyo-based startup ispace and carrying a UAE-built rover, blasted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 2:38am (0738 GMT), live footage of the launch showed.

"Our first mission will lay the groundwork for unleashing the Moon's potential and transforming it into a robust and vibrant economic system," the startup's CEO, Takeshi Hakamada, said in a statement.

So far only the United States, Russia and China have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface.

The ispace mission is the first of a program called Hakuto-R, which means "white rabbit" in Japanese.

The company said its lunar lander was expected to touch down on the visible side of the Moon in April 2023 -- the Year of the Rabbit in the Japanese zodiac.

Measuring just over two by 2.5 meters, the spacecraft has a payload that includes a 10-kilogram rover built by the United Arab Emirates.

The Gulf country is a newcomer to the space race but sent a probe into Mars' orbit last year. If the rover, named Rashid, successfully lands, it will be the Arab world's first Moon mission.

UAE Vice-President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum celebrated the launch as "part of the UAE's ambitious space program" in a tweet on Sunday.

"Our goal is to transfer knowledge, develop our capabilities, and leave a scientific footprint in human history," he said.

The UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre said a signal from the spacecraft had successfully been received by ground control.

Hakuto was one of five finalists in Google's Lunar XPrize competition to land a rover on the Moon before a 2018 deadline, which passed without a winner.

The ispace lunar lander is also carrying two robots produced by Japan's space agency and a disc with the song "SORATO" by Japanese rock band Sakanaction, which was originally written in support of the Google competition.

Israeli organisation SpaceIL, another finalist in the contest, failed in April 2019 to become the first privately-funded mission to land on the Moon, after its lander crashed into the surface while attempting to land.

ispace, which has just 200 employees, has said it "aims to extend the sphere of human life into space and create a sustainable world by providing high-frequency, low-cost transportation services to the Moon."