Hakuto-R lander will attempt today the 2nd attempt of a private company to land on the moon. Onboard is also UAE’s Rashid rover.
The story of Hakuto-R starts with the 13th September 2007. It is the announcement date of the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP). After the Ansari X-Prize with the goal to fly a private spaceship to space was won by Paul Allen & Burt Rutan’s team with the SpaceShipOne spaceship piloted by Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie in October 2004 the X-Prize foundation searched for a new prize with a new goal. The Ansari X-Prize was reached in time so the team decided to set an even higher goal: the moon. The winner would be a team that is sending a robotic mission to the moon, land on it and move over 500 meters over the ground and send photos and videos back to earth. The deadline to do this tasks was tough. The X-Prize foundation set the deadline to the 31st December 2014.
Interested people from Japan and Europe was gathering to form a team and accept the challenge of the GLXP in 2008. So at first the White Label Space company was founded in the Netherlands and the leadership went into the hands of Steve Allen. Later, in 2010 the Japanese company White Label Space Japan LLC, the predecessor of ispace was founded by the Hakuto team leader Takeshi Hakamada. This new founded company should organize the financial and technical aspects of the Japanese GLXP team. During the years the Team Hakuto joined forces under the technical leadership of Kazuya Yoshida, a professor of aerospace engineering at Tohoku University to built a moon rover. Initially the team wanted to built a moon lander as well but wanted to focus at first on the easier part – a moon rover. The first name for the rover was White Rabbit – in Japanese Hakuto. Later they renamed the team from White Label Space to Hakuto and the rover got a new name: Sorato. They aimed to launch their rover, Sorato, on the lander of the Indian GLXP Team Indus. But unfortunately the GLXP was finished on 31st of March 2018 without an winner and the launch with GLXP Team Indus never happend.
Undeterred, ispace continued on new paths, finding new investors and restarting their moon project by developing their own lander, named Hakuto-R (with “R” standing for Reboot). The company also got financial support from the UAE and used their experience with Sorato rover to help the UAE develop their own rover, named Rashid.
On 12th December 2022, the Hakuto-R was finally launched from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida, together with NASA’s Lunar Flashlight, on a Falcon 9 rocket. The Lunar Flashlight mission went shortly after launch into trouble with its thrusters and it looks like for them it will be hard to reach the moon. But the fortune was on the side of ispace. The Hakuto-R had no issues after launch and could rise its orbit to go closer and closer to the moon. After a journey of over three months, the moon lander arrived on the moon on 21st March 2023, and made a lunar injection maneuver at 02:24 Uhr UTC to get into a lunar orbit. The thrusters of the lunar lander was burning for several minutes. After arriving of Hakuto-R in the moon orbit they achieved a big milestone. Only for the second time in history a spacecraft built by a private company was in lunar orbit.
On 14th April 2023, the ispace team successfully changed the high elliptical orbit of Hakuto-R into a circular 100 km orbit. With everything in place, the Japanese team was ready to start the second private moon landing attempt – after the unsuccessful attempt of SpaceIL’s Beresheet in April 2019. The planned landing site of Hakuto-R is located in the Atlas crater. , on 25th April 2023, at 16:40 UTC time.
After landing the Hakuto-R lander can deploy two rovers. The biggest one is the already mentioned Rashid rover from UAE. The other one is a transformable small two wheels robot called SORA-Q built by the toy manufactor Takara Tomy.
If the landing is successful today, it will mark a significant achievement for ispace as the first private company which landed a spacecraft on the moon, as well as the first successful Arab moon mission in history, with the Rashid rover onboard. The mission is expected to pave the way for more private space exploration in the future — Good luck & Ad Astra!
You can watch the livestream of the landing of Hakuto-R on YouTube: