Japanese lunar lander slated to launch Nov. 28 at the earliest

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TAMPA, Fla. — Japan’s ispace expects SpaceX to launch its lunar lander Nov. 28 at the earliest for a mission to the moon’s surface roughly five months later. 

The company said Nov. 17 its HAKUTO-R M1 lander is slated to fly on a Falcon 9 at 3:46 a.m Eastern from the Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, subject to weather and other conditions.

This would put M1 on track to land on the moon by around the end of April, when it would deliver lunar payloads for the UAE-based Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, the Japanese space agency JAXA and commercial firms in Japan and Canada.

The company also announced Nov. 17 it has chosen the Atlas Crater at Mare Frigoris to the far north of the moon as its primary landing site. 

Landing on the southeastern outer edge of Mare Frigoris — one of the moon’s dark basaltic plains — would provide M1 with continuous sunlight for power and visibility to Earth for communications, ispace said.

Alternative landing targets include Lacus Somniorum, Sinus Iridium and Oceanus Procellarum.

M1’s planned low-energy trajectory to the moon required the lander to have the Falcon 9 practically to itself.

After separating from the rocket about an hour after lift-off, it will take the lander about four months to reach lunar orbit via a series of propulsive maneuvers.

Once in lunar orbit it will then take about two weeks for ispace to perform the maneuvers and checks it needs to initiate a soft landing sequence it expects to take about an hour to complete.

With its legs extended, M1 stands at 2.3 meters tall and 2.6 meters wide, with a dry mass of about 340 kilograms.

HAKUTO-R M1 lander mission timeline. Credit ispace

Joining M1 on the Falcon 9 as a secondary payload is NASA’s Lunar Flashlight spacecraft, which is the size of six cubesats, designed to hunt for evidence of water ice in craters around the moon’s south pole from a highly elliptical orbit.

M1 is the first in a series of landers ispace plans to send to the lunar surface. Its next mission has been penciled in for 2024.

The 12-year-old firm, which had 214 employees as of October, said it has insured its inaugural mission with coverage from Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, a Tokyo-based firm that started working with ispace in 2019.

According to ispace’s Nov. 17 news release, the policy “covers from the launch of the rocket carrying the lunar lander, through the establishment of communication and data transmissions between the lander and mission control following landing on the lunar surface.”

Global insurance broker Marsh supported the policy, which only covers the lander, not its payloads.