Japan’s ispace launches world’s first commercial moon lander

A Japanese space startup launched a spacecraft to the moon after several delays, a step toward what would be a first for the nation and for a private company. ispace Inc’s HAKUTO-R mission took off without incident from Cape Canaveral, Florida, after two postponements caused by inspections of its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The name HAKUTO refers to the white rabbit that lives on the moon in Japanese folklore, in contrast to the Western idea of a man in the moon. The project was a finalist in the Google Lunar XPRIZE before being revived as a commercial venture.

Next year is the Year of the Rabbit in the Asian calendar. The craft, assembled in Germany, is expected to land on the moon in late April.

The company hopes this will be the first of many deliveries of government and commercial payloads. The ispace craft aims to put a small NASA satellite into lunar orbit to search for water deposits before touching down in the Atlas Crater.

The M1 lander will deploy two robotic rovers, a two-wheeled, baseball-sized device from Japan’s JAXA space agency and the four-wheeled Rashid explorer made by the United Arab Emirates. It will also be carrying an experimental solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug Co.