Japanese lunar lander, with NASA rideshare, to launch this month

WASHINGTON — The Japanese lunar rover developer is in the final stages of preparations to launch its first lunar landing mission, a flight that will include a NASA lunar cubesat mission as a secondary payload.

Tokyo-based ispace announced on October 31 that the HAKUTO-R M1 lander arrived at Cape Canaveral, Florida for final preparations to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9. The spacecraft arrived by plane from Germany, where it had completed final assembly and testing.

The company had previously targeted a launch between November 9 and 15, but said in the announcement that it had pushed back the launch to no earlier than November 22. The new launch date “allows for better preparation for the mission when considering fuel loading, landing schedule and launch date availability,” the company said.

The M1 aircraft carries government and commercial payloads, including Rashid, a small lunar rover developed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in the United Arab Emirates, and a baseball-sized “transforming lunar robot” by Japan’s JAXA space agency. Other payloads include cameras and technology demonstrations.

As the name suggests, the M1 Lander is the first in a series designed by ispace. The next mission, M2, is tentatively scheduled to launch in 2024.

The ispace lander’s Falcon 9 launch will carry a NASA cubesat as a secondary payload. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on Oct. 28 that the Lunar Flashlight cubesat was preparing to launch on that flight. The 6U cubesat will enter a highly elliptical orbit that will take it within 15 kilometers of the surface above the South Pole, allowing it to fire lasers into the craters there to look for evidence of water ice.

The Lunar Flashlight was originally planned to fly with twelve other cubesats as secondary payloads on Artemis 1, the launch system’s first launch into space. However, problems with the propulsion system on the cubesat prevented its completion in time to meet last fall’s delivery deadline for integration into the rocket.

Last spring, NASA said it planned to fly the Lunar Flashlight as a secondary payload on another Falcon 9 launch IM-1, Intuitive Machines’ first lunar landing mission, carrying a set of payloads for the Commercial program NASA’s Lunar Payload Services as well as for commercial customers. That mission, once set to launch by the end of this year, has now slipped to March 2023.

In a statement to SpaceNews on Oct. 31, NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program said it worked with a launch broker “who placed the spacecraft at the earliest possible suitable launch opportunity based on the launch trajectory.” When launch schedules changed in the fall, the space mission became the first launch opportunity.

Despite missing its original route, the Lunar Flashlight won’t be far behind the cubesats it was set to fly on Artemis 1. NASA is planning an SLS launch on this mission no earlier than November 14.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *