Japan’s ispace prepares for world’s first commercial lunar landing

Japanese startup Space inc (9348.T) is preparing to land its Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) spaceship on the moon early Wednesday. If it works, it will be the first time a private company has landed on the moon.

After leaving Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a SpaceX rocket in December, the M1 lander will land around 1:40 a.m. Japan time (16:40 GMT Tuesday).

Success would be a happy change from Japan’s recent setbacks in space technology, where it wants to build a domestic industry and send astronauts to the moon by the end of the 2020s.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) lost its new medium-lift H3 rocket after it got into space. This was one of the worst things that could have happened. That was less than five months after the October launch failure of JAXA’s solid-fuel Epsilon rocket.

The 2.3-meter-tall (7.55-ft) M1 will begin an hour-long landing phase from its current point in the moon’s orbit about 100 km (62 miles) above the surface and moving at nearly 6,000 km/h (3,700 mph), said Chief Technology Officer Ryo Ujiie at a press conference on Monday.

Ujiie said that slowing down the lander to the right speed against the moon’s gravity was like “stepping on the brakes on a running bicycle at the edge of a ski jumping hill.”

Only the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China have successfully soft-landed a spaceship on the moon. India and a private Israeli company have tried in recent years but failed.

When the M1 gets to the landing spot at the edge of Mare Frigoris in the moon’s northern hemisphere, it will drop off a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover made by JAXA, a Japanese toymaker, and Sony Group, as well as a four-wheeled “Rashid” Rover made by the United Arab Emirates.

The M1 also brings an experimental solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug Co (5334.T) and other things to see how they work on the moon.

In its second mission, planned for 2024, the M1 will bring ispace’s rover. Starting in 2025, it will work with U.S. space lab Draper to bring NASA payloads to the moon to build a permanently staffed lunar colony by 2040.

This month, shares of the Tokyo-based lunar transportation startup had a roaring start on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Investors bet that the company’s business of developing and transporting the moon will fit in with Japan’s national policy of developing defense and space.

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