SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket to Launch Moon Lander and Rover: How to Watch

While the Orion spacecraft, a key part of NASA’s Artemis I mission, is on its way back to Earth after going far beyond the moon, a new lunar lander from Japan and a small rover from the United Arab Emirates are set to blast off from Florida soon. 

The Hakuto R mission is led by the private Japanese company iSpace and will send its M1 lander, which is about the size of a chest freezer, to the surface of the moon. 

“Our first mission will lay the groundwork for unleashing the moon’s potential and transforming it into a robust and vibrant economic system,” said Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of iSpace, in a statement. 

Hakamada added that the company is hoping to contribute to the Artemis program. The US space agency has already committed to buy moon rocks that M1 will collect. 

Launch was set for early Thursday morning, but on Wednesday the company announced the mission “has been postponed, which will allow SpaceX to perform additional pre-flight checks of the launch vehicle.”

This is just the latest of several delays to the launch, which is not all that unusual in the space industry. 

The lander and rover will lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which will then land its first-stage booster about 10 minutes later at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.  

iSpace was one of the finalists in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which ended back in 2018 without any winners being declared. But it did raise funds to continue on its own and secure some customers with similar lunar ambitions. That’s how a rover named Rashid from the UAE’s space program wound up on board M1. 

Rashid is set to study moon dust and will send images and data back to Earth.

If the mission succeeds, Japan and the UAE will join the US, Russia and China as the only nations that have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface. Another Lunar X Prize finalist, Israel’s SpaceIL, attempted its own lunar landing in 2019, but the mission ended with a crash into the moon that destroyed the spacecraft. 

The lander has a long journey between blastoff and touchdown on the moon, performing months’ worth of tests in space before arrival at the Atlas crater on the near side of the moon, which is scheduled for April. 

SpaceX and iSpace have not yet announced a new target date for launch. Whenever it happens, the start of the mission will be livestreamed and we’ll embed the feed here. 

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