For private companies to explore destinations beyond Earth, which could catapult the space business into its golden age, a major step is underway: A privately funded lander is headed to the moon to attempt the first commercial soft landing on the lunar surface. The Tokyo-based Japanese space exploration company ispace built the small, hot-tub-sized lander destined for Earth’s satellite.
“The most important point is that our mission is not just a lunar landing,” says Jumpei Nozaki, director and chief financial officer at ispace.
Google’s Lunar X Prize competition, which ran from 2007 to 2018 and was designed to spur affordable access to the moon, in part kicked off ispace’s interest in getting there. Although the competition ended without a team securing the $30 million dollar prize, it succeeded in inspiring many new spacecraft concepts, ispace’s lander included.
Coming in at a dry weight of just under 800 pounds, the craft will carry multiple commercial and government payloads with it along its journey, including the United Arab Emirates’ first lunar rover, Rashid, as well as a baseball-sized lunar robot from the Japanese Space Agency, and a music disc containing a song by a Japanese rock band, Sakanaction.
If ispace is successful, its landing will mark a major milestone in the history of commercial spaceflight, considering that it could be the first private mission to ever make a soft landing on the moon.