Japanese startup, ispace Inc (9348.T), is poised to make history by landing its Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) spacecraft on the moon on Wednesday. If it succeeds, it will be the world’s first lunar landing by a private company. The M1 is scheduled to touch down at approximately 1:40 a.m. Japan time (1640 GMT Tuesday), after taking off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December on a SpaceX rocket.
The success of the M1 would mark a significant accomplishment for Japan, which has faced several setbacks in space technology recently, despite its big ambitions of building a domestic industry, including sending Japanese astronauts to the moon by the late 2020s. One of the most significant blows was the loss of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s new medium-lift H3 rocket, which was destroyed after reaching space, less than five months after JAXA’s solid-fuel Epsilon rocket failed after launch in October.
The M1 lander stands 2.3 meters tall (7.55 ft) and will begin an hour-long landing phase from its current position in the moon’s orbit, approximately 100 km (62 miles) above the surface, moving at nearly 6,000 km/hour (3,700 mph). Chief Technology Officer Ryo Ujiie likened the task of slowing down the lander to the correct speed against the moon’s gravitational pull to “stepping on the brakes on a running bicycle at the edge of a ski jumping hill.” If successful, ispace would become the fourth entity to soft-land a spacecraft on the moon, following the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China. Attempts in recent years by India and a private Israeli company ended in failure.
Upon reaching the landing site at the edge of Mare Frigoris in the moon’s northern hemisphere, the M1 will deploy a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover developed by JAXA, Japanese toymaker Tomy Co (7867.T), and Sony Group (6758.T), along with the United Arab Emirates’ four-wheeled “Rashid” Rover. The M1 is also carrying an experimental solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug Co (5334.T), among other objects, to gauge how they perform on the moon.
In its second mission, scheduled for 2024, the M1 will bring ispace’s own rover. From 2025, it is set to work with U.S. space lab Draper to bring NASA payloads to the moon, targeting the building of a permanently staffed lunar colony by 2040. Investors are optimistic about the Tokyo-based lunar transportation startup, with shares having a blistering market debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange this month. They bet ispace’s lunar development and transportation business will fit in with Japan’s national policy of defense and space development.
Japan’s investment in the space industry has ramped up in recent years, with the Japanese government doubling down on its ambitions to become a leading space power. This push is aimed at spurring innovation, developing cutting-edge technology, and creating jobs. Japan’s space program has been ambitious, including its H3 rocket, which aims to significantly reduce launch costs and make it a more attractive option for satellite launches. Furthermore, Japan’s planned lunar missions could provide opportunities for Japanese companies to develop new technologies and expand their operations, potentially creating new jobs in the process.
Japan’s interest in space is also motivated by defense concerns, as neighboring countries such as China and North Korea have made significant strides in the development of space technology. Japan’s focus on the space industry aims to give it a competitive edge in the region, enhance its security, and contribute to global peace and prosperity.