WASHINGTON — A lunar lander developed by Japanese company ispace has entered orbit around the moon, setting up a lunar landing attempt by the end of April.
Tokyo-based ispace said that its HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander entered orbit at 9:24 p.m. Eastern March 20 after a burn by its main engine lasting several minutes. The company did not disclose the parameters of the orbit but said that the maneuver was a success.
HAKUTO-R Mission 1 launched in December on a SpaceX Falcon 9, going into a low-energy trajectory that took it 1.4 million kilometers from the Earth before swinging back to rendezvous with the moon. The company said in a Feb. 27 update it expected to enter orbit around the moon in the latter half of March but did not announce a specific date for the orbital insertion maneuver.
Entering orbit is the seventh of 10 milestones ispace set for the mission that started with launch preparations. The final three milestones are completing “orbital control maneuvers,” the landing itself and going into a steady state of activities after landing.
Company officials said in February that the mission was going well even as engineers dealt with minor issues, such as higher than expected spacecraft temperatures and an onboard computer that rebooted multiple times. “We have experienced several anomalies, but we have already solved those issues,” said Ryo Ujiie, chief technology officer of ispace.
The spacecraft will attempt a landing in Atlas Crater, located on the edge of Mare Frigoris in the northeastern quadrant of the near side of the moon, around the end of April. The company said March 21 it would announce a specific landing date in the near future. Mission 1 is carrying a set of customer payloads from companies and organizations, such as a small rover called Rashid developed by the United Arab Emirates.
The company is working on a second lander, Mission 2, that is similar in design to the spacecraft now in lunar orbit. It is scheduled to launch in 2024 carrying another set of customer payloads as well as a “micro rover” ispace has developed. Mission 3 will use a larger lander developed by ispace’s U.S. subsidiary in partnership with Draper, which won a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services award last July to fly payloads to the lunar farside.
A successful landing would make ispace the first private entity to touch down on the moon and only the fourth organization overall, after the governments of the former Soviet Union, United States and China.
As it prepares to land on the moon, ispace is also preparing to go public. The company announced March 8 it will list its shares on the Tokyo Stock Exchange Growth Market April 12. The company will announce pricing for those shares April 3. It had raised nearly $200 million through several private rounds.