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WASHINGTON (AFP) – A SpaceX rocket is set to lift off Wednesday with a Japanese-built lander, making it the first private and Japanese machine to land on the moon.
The Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:39 a.m. (0839 GMT) on Wednesday. If necessary, a fallback date is scheduled for Thursday.
So far, only the United States, Russia and China have managed to land robots on the moon, 400,000 km from Earth.
This work by Japanese company ispace is the first in a project called Hakuto-R. The lander, measuring 2 meters by 2.5 meters, is set to land in the Atlas crater on the visible side of the moon in April 2023, according to a company statement.
The lander, which is not designed for a human crew, carries a small 10-kilogram rover named Rasheed, built by the United Arab Emirates. The country is a newcomer to the space race, and has been trying to establish itself in recent years. If successful, it would be the first lunar mission by an Arab country.
“We have achieved so much in the six short years since we started conceptualizing this project in 2016,” ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement.
The company’s Hakuto project was one of five finalists in the international Google Lunar XPrize competition, which ended unsuccessfully because no company managed to land a robot on the moon before the set date (2018). But some projects are not abandoned.
Another finalist, Israeli organization SpaceIL, lost in April 2019, becoming the first privately funded mission to achieve the feat. The lander crashed on the surface while trying to land.
For its part, iSpace, which has only about 200 employees, intends to set up a “frequent and low-cost transportation service to the moon.”
The Japanese company also wants to contribute to NASA’s Artemis program, whose first manned mission is currently underway. The US space agency wants to boost the lunar economy by building a space station and a base on its surface in the coming years.
It has awarded contracts to several companies to build landers to carry scientific experiments to the moon. Among them, the American companies Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines should take off in 2023, and will be able to reach their destination earlier in the direct route to space, according to the specialized press.
© 2022 AFP