"Hakuto-R": Historic mission: Japanese attempt the first private moon landing

It could be the hour of private space flight to the moon.

"Hakuto-R": Historic mission: Japanese attempt the first private moon landing

It could be the hour of private space flight to the moon. On Tuesday at around 6.40 p.m. CEST, the young Japanese space company ispace wants to have a landing device called "Hakuto-R" placed on the earth's satellite. If successful, it would be the world's first private moon landing. Soon after, two US competitors want to set course for the moon with their own landers. But the Japanese are likely to be the first, even if the landing of "Hakuto-R" could be delayed until May 1st or 3rd, depending on how the mission goes.

Moon exploration began in the 1950s during the Cold War as heated competition between the US and the former Soviet Union. So far, only government space programs have managed to land on the celestial body. In 1959, for example, the Soviets placed an unmanned probe on the lunar surface. Ten years later, the USA succeeded in the first manned moon mission with "Apollo 11". Two years ago, China sent a capsule to the moon and brought back rock samples. With its "Artemis" program, NASA is currently aiming for the first manned moon landing in more than half a century.

As with the ISS space station, NASA is now working more and more closely with commercial providers on the moon, because this has proven to be an efficient and ultimately cost-saving way for the authority. Japan's space agency Jaxa sees it the same way. She has "Hakuto-R" from the local company ispace bring a small two-wheeled robot to the moon. In order to carry less fuel, the Hakuto lander was launched on a longer, more energy-efficient route to the moon, using the gravity of the earth and the sun for propulsion.

The aim of the project is to collect data from the moon that will be useful for the development of future moon missions, Jaxa told the German Press Agency. ispace's mission is "the fastest means of achieving our goal," it said. Hakuto means "white rabbit" - he lived on the moon in Japanese mythology. The "R" stands for English reboot, restart. The 2.3 meter high lander was tested in Ottobrunn near Munich and, in addition to the Jaxa robot, also has a small rover from the United Arab Emirates on board.

"For Japan's space development, it is wonderful that with the increasing activity of private companies in space, there are more opportunities for space exploration," Jaxa said. New ideas, unique to the private sector, expanded the diversity of space exploration.

It is not the first attempt at a private moon mission. The Israeli non-profit organization Space IL had brought the Beresheet probe towards the moon. However, it failed shortly before its goal in 2019 when a key engine failed during the landing maneuver, communications were lost and the probe crashed on the moon. So now the Japanese are trying after their "Hakuto-R" mission had to be postponed several times.

Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of the Tokyo-based space company ispace, was fascinated by space as a child. "I would like to see a world where cool spaceships fly around," he was quoted as saying by Forbes magazine. "This is my real childhood dream. To create this world, we need people in space. I want to help create the conditions for that," said Hakamada. His vision is to "create an economically viable lunar ecosystem," the Japanese once explained to the science magazine "New Scientist".

When the US technology giant Google announced the "Google Lunar X" award for the first non-governmental team to land on the moon in 2007, the "Hakuto" team also took part. But nobody reached the target by the end of the 2018 deadline. The Japanese then undertook a "reboot", a new attempt - with "Hakuto-R". If their mission "M1" succeeds, it would be the first time in the world that a private company lands on the moon with ispace.

Meanwhile, the competition is already in the starting blocks. "We are opening access to the moon for human progress," advertises the American company Intuitive Machines, founded in 2013 in Houston, Texas. However, the moon flight of their first lander "Nova-C" has already been postponed several times and is currently planned for June. Among other things, the lander is to collect important data for NASA's "Artemis" mission on the moon.

The company Astrobotic Technology from Pittsburgh in the state of Pennsylvania also wants to launch a lander, the "Peregrine Lander", possibly as early as May. This start has also been postponed several times. Among other things, the lander is to bring materials for experiments to the moon on behalf of NASA.

Meanwhile, Ispace is planning another moon lander with its own rover for 2024, and a larger lander is to start in 2025. One of the company's goals is the business of transporting goods to the moon. However, Hakamada has another vision for 2040: a small city on the moon called "Moon Valley" with 1,000 inhabitants, complete with infrastructure and industry, as a video on the company's website shows. According to the vision of the Japanese, the city on the moon will attract around 10,000 visitors every year.