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Japanese Company Set to be the First Commercial Mission to the Moon

Sandipan Talukdar |
M1 lander of Ispace scheduled to be launched around 22nd November from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.
Mission Moon

Repreesentational use only.Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

New Delhi: A Japanese company, Ispace’s lunar craft is ready to become the first private commercial mission to moon. The M1 lander of Ispace has been scheduled to launch around the 22nd of November from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. 

The lander, among other things, will carry Moon rovers for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency. This appears to be a joint project and if successful then it would mark the first voyage onto the Moon’s surface of both countries. It is worth recalling at this point that only the United States of America (USA), China and the Soviet Union have successfully landed on the lunar surface till now.

The M1 lander is a part of the Hakuto-R programme of Ispace and shall be launched on a rocket manufactured by another space company SpaceX, based in the USA. The lunar craft will take a winding route to Moon and supposedly land there towards the end of March 2023 or early April. However, the probable dates may vary depending on the launch date. This implies that Ispace's mission could be overtaken by others set to be launched in 2023, in terms of landing on the Moon.

Two other lenders that are supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are planned to be launched early next year and they will take a more straight route unlike the winding one by Ispace’s project. The first mission by the US firm Intuitive Machines is scheduled to be launched in March 2023 and it may take only six days to reach the Moon. Much like an actual race, lunar crafts will be racing to reach the Moon first.

Lunar missions are increasing as scientists and private players have found a renewed interest in it and the Moon becoming a popular space destination. Experts opine that the entire system will ultimately aim for harvesting lunar water, which, some companies believe can be used in producing rocket fuel which concomitantly will make solar exploration cheaper. “The success of the missions by Ispace and other firms will be a huge and important step to developing the lunar ecosystem,” commented Ryo Ujiie in a statement who is the chief technical officer at Ispace. However, it is worth mentioning that success in landing over the Lunar surface is far from assured. We know what happened with the first private mission of attempting a lunar landing, which is Israel’s Beresheet craft. This maiden mission crashed on the Moon back in 2019.

The current mission of M1 will make a journey of four months, where it will use the gravitational pull of the Earth and the Sun in order to guide the craft to the Moon. The positive side of this strategy is that it uses less propellant than those taking a direct route. However, the actual money involved in the mission has not been disclosed by Ispace.

Once the lander reaches the Moon, it will start orbiting in an elliptical trajectory in order to get closer to the surface. Hereafter a fully automated landing will be attempted involving brake and other automated adjustments for a soft landing.

The mission aims to land at the Atlas crater, which, experts opine is the riskiest part of the entire journey. Commenting on it, Hamad Al Marzooqi, the project manager of the Rashid rover of UAE and built by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, Dubai, said, “We sometimes say that it’s fifty-fifty whether the landing will be successful. Anything can go wrong.” This site was chosen with the hope that it would be relatively less risky as this site is free of boulders and mostly flat.

This mission will also contain a rover. In a space mission, the lander is used for landing on the surface of the celestial body and the rover is purposed to move around the surface after the landing is successful. Ispace’s mission uses a tiny rover—about 50 centimetres and a weight of only 10 kilograms. The tiny rover will be guided by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm and is hoped to identify features of the lunar terrain.

The rover contains instruments containing Langmuir probes that will map the temperature and density of the charged particles affecting the movement of dust across the lunar surface. In addition, the rover will also contain four cameras. The cameras will observe the surface environment and also the lunar soil- known as regolith, as well as analyse the geological features of the landing site.

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