LAS VEGAS — The Japanese government is providing ispace with $80 million to help fund development of a new lunar lander in parallel with a similar effort by the company’s U.S. subsidiary.
Tokyo-based ispace said Oct. 20 that it won an innovation grant from the government’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) worth up to 12 billion yen ($80 million) for work on what the company calls the Series 3 lunar lander that will be ready for launch by 2027.
The award, a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant similar to those awarded by U.S. government agencies but on a much larger scale, is part of an effort by the Japanese government to fund work on innovative research and development, the company said in a statement.
The lander will be designed to carry at least 100 kilograms of payload to the lunar surface, said Ryo Ujiie, chief technology officer of ispace, at an online briefing Oct. 23. That lander could eventually carry up to 500 kilograms as a “final target” for its design, he added.
He and other ispace executives offered few details about the design of the Series 3 lander or even an illustration of it. “The Series 3 lander is about to begin its development. The details are not decided yet,” he said.
It will, though, leverage work done on APEX 1.0, a lander formerly known as Series 2 that the company’s American subsidiary, ispace U.S., is separately developing. “If we can make any part of the development more efficient, we’ll do that. Also, there will be some parts that will be intentionally different between those two landers,” he said, but did not elaborate.
Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive of ispace, said the APEX 1.0 and Series 3 landers will serve different customers. APEX 1.0 “will be used to capture the requests and requirements by NASA,” he said, “and we have to meet the requirements by NASA,” such as use of U.S.-built components. APEX 1.0 is being used for a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission led by Draper.
While APEX 1.0 will be intended primarily for the U.S. market, he said there is “high demand” elsewhere for landers, prompting development of the Series 3 lander. “We are going to develop another lander to meet the demand from countries other than the States,” he said.
Executives declined to say how much it will cost the Series 3 lander but said it will be more than the value of the METI award. They said they are looking at options to finance the remaining cost of the lander, such as revenue from customer contracts.
The company has launched one lunar lander to date, the HAKUTO-R M1 mission that crashed attempting a landing in April. A second lander of the same design is scheduled to launch next year as Mission 2, with the first APEX 1.0 lander, for the Draper CLPS mission, is designated as Mission 3 by ispace and slated to launch in 2026.
The first Series 3 lander mission, part of the METI award, is scheduled for 2027 but will not necessarily be known as Mission 4, Hakamada said. “We are assuming Mission 6 for that, but that might change,” he said, declining to identify what ispace might fly as Mission 4 or 5.