A spacecraft designed by a Japanese startup took off on Sunday atop a SpaceX rocket. The launch took place at Cape Canaveral in the US state of Florida, with various components from Canada, the UAE, and NASA being carried on the craft. The Hakuto-R mission, which means “white rabbit” in Japanese, from the iSpace company is expected to land on the moon in April 2023. It is the first time a private company will send a mission to the moon, also marking a first for Japanese space travel.
“Our first mission will lay the groundwork for unleashing the moon’s potential and transforming it into a robust and vibrant economic system,” the startup’s CEO, Takeshi Hakamada, said in a statement.
The Hakuto-R is taking a slow, low-energy path to the moon, flying 1.6 million kilometers (one million miles) from Earth before looping back and making a planned landing by the end of April. By contrast, NASA’s Orion crew capsule with test dummies took five days to reach the Moon last month. The lunar flyby mission is anticipated to end on Sunday with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
The company said its lunar lander was expected to touch down on the visible side of the moon in April 2023, the year of the rabbit in Japan. Measuring just over 2 by 2.5 meters, the spacecraft has a payload that includes a 10-kilogram rover built by the United Arab Emirates. The Gulf country is a newcomer to the space race but recently sent a probe into Mars’ orbit last year. If the rover, named Rashid, successfully lands, it will be the Arab world’s first moon mission. Hakuto was one of five finalists in Google’s Lunar XPrize competition to land a rover on the moon before a 2018 deadline, which ended without a winner.