Japan’s ispace takes first steps towards lunar colony

Japanese space start-up ispace launched a spacecraft to the moon over the weekend, heralding the start of a potentially major commercial project.

The company hopes this will be the first of many deliveries of government and commercial payloads. 

The ispace craft aims to put a small NASA satellite into lunar orbit to search for water deposits before touching down in the Atlas Crater.

The M1 lander will deploy two robotic rovers, a two-wheeled, baseball-sized device from Japan’s JAXA space agency and the four-wheeled Rashid explorer made by the United Arab Emirates.

It will also be carrying an experimental solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug Co.

“The Rashid rover is part of the United Arab Emirates ambitious space programme,” said Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also vice-president of the United Arab Emirates and who watched the launch at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre.

“Our aim is knowledge transfer and developing our capabilities and to add a scientific imprint in the history of humanity,” he tweeted.

Privately funded ispace has a contract with NASA to ferry payloads to the moon from 2025 and is aiming to build a permanently staffed lunar colony by 2040.

ispace Inc’s HAKUTO-R mission took off without incident on 11 December from Cape Canaveral, Florida, after two postponements caused by inspections of its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.