HAKUTO-R M1 lander
The HAKUTO-R M1 lander, built by ispace, undergoes final preparations in Germany for shipment to Cape Canaveral for a Falcon 9 launch Nov. 9-15. Credit: ispace

WASHINGTON — Japanese lunar lander developer ispace is in the final phases of preparations for the launch of its first lunar lander mission, a flight that will include a NASA lunar cubesat mission as a secondary payload.

Tokyo-based ispace announced Oct. 31 that its HAKUTO-R M1 lander had arrived at Cape Canaveral, Florida, for final preparations for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9. The spacecraft arrived by plane from Germany, where it had completed final assembly and testing.

The company previously targeted a launch between Nov. 9 and 15, but said in the announcement that it had postponed the launch to no earlier than Nov. 22. The new launch date “allows for best preparation for the mission when considering the fuel-loading schedule for the lander and launch date availability,” the company stated.

The M1 lander is carrying government and commercial payloads, including Rashid, a small lunar rover developed by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre in the United Arab Emirates, and a “transformable lunar robot” the size of a baseball from Japan’s space agency JAXA. Other payloads include cameras and technology demonstrations.

As the name suggests, the M1 lander is the first in a series planned by ispace. The next mission, M2, is tentatively scheduled for launch in 2024.

The Falcon 9 launch of the ispace lander will carry a NASA cubesat as a secondary payload. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Oct. 28 that its Lunar Flashlight cubesat was being prepared to launch on that flight. The 6U cubesat will go into a highly elliptical orbit that will take it within 15 kilometers of the surface over the south pole, allowing it shine lasers into the craters there to look for evidence of water ice.

Lunar Flashlight was originally slated to fly with a dozen other cubesats as secondary payloads on Artemis 1, the first launch of the Space Launch System. However, problems with the propulsion system on the cubesat prevented it from being completed in time to meet a delivery deadline last fall for being integrated on the rocket.

Last spring, NASA said it planned to fly Lunar Flashlight instead as a secondary payload on another Falcon 9 launching IM-1, the first lunar lander mission by Intuitive Machines, carrying a set of payloads for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program as well as commercial customers. That mission, once set to launch by the end of this year, has now slipped to March 2023.

In a statement to SpaceNews Oct. 31, NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology Program said that it worked with a launch broker “who placed the spacecraft on the earliest possible suitable launch opportunity based on the launch trajectory.” When launch schedules changed in the fall, the ispace mission became that earliest launch opportunity.

Despite missing its original ride, Lunar Flashlight won’t be far behind the cubesats it was to fly with on Artemis 1. NASA is planning a launch of the SLS on that mission no earlier than Nov. 14.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...