Tokyo-based iSpace has been selected to transport rovers from Canada and Japan to the lunar surface after launching on a SpaceX rocket. The company will use the recently revealed Hakuto-R lander for both missions, currently scheduled for 2022 and 2023.
The Canadian Space Agency selected three private Canadian companies to ride the lander, each with separate scientific missions. Mission Control Space Services, Canadensis and NGC are the first companies to receive the award under the CSA’s capacity demonstration program, which is part of the agency’s lunar exploration accelerator program. The LEAP, unveiled by the Canadian government in February 2020, earmarks $ 150 million over five years to support demonstrations and science missions in space from Canada’s private industry.
As part of the mission, the iSpace lander will deliver a 22-pound rover, “Rashid”, to the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) in the United Arab Emirates. The rover will be equipped with an artificial intelligence flight computer from space robotics company Mission Control Space Services. Mission Control’s AI will use deep-learning algorithms to identify lunar geology as the Rashid rover crosses the surface.
ISpace for Canadensis will carry cameras “to capture critical events during the mission”. The Japanese company will also collect lunar imagery data to demonstrate the autonomous navigation system of NGC.
“We are honored to note that all three companies provided by CSA have engaged the services of iSpace to operate on the lunar surface,” iSpace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement. “We see this as a show of confidence that iSpace has evolved over the years with CSA, as well as recognition of iSpace’s positive position in the North American market.”
ISpace will also carry a variable lunar robot payload to the moon for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JXA), in addition to conducting operations and providing lunar data. The data collected on this mission, Mission 2, will be used to assist in the design of future crew pressurized rovers.
JAXA’s lunar robot will be only about 80 mm in diameter before changing its surface form, and weighing only 250 grams. This mission is scheduled to take place in 2023. ISpace did not disclose the financial terms of the deals.
“When the robot travels over the lunar surface, pictures on the behavior of the regolith, and images of the lunar surface taken by the robot and the camera on the lunar lander will be sent to the mission control center via the lunar lander,” JAXA said in a news release . “The acquired data will be used to evaluate localization algorithms and the impact of the regolith on the driving performance of a crew pressurized rover.”
ispace unveiled its Hakuto-R lander design in July 2020. The Hakuto project originated from the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, in which teams competed to become the first to send a lunar rover to the moon, did it travel 500 meters and send back photos and videos to Earth. None of the five finalists, including Hakuto, were able to complete a launch, and the competition ended later in 2018 with no winner.
The MBRSC and JAXA rovers will have a separate deployment mechanism from the landers, although Hakamada did not provide further details during a media briefing on Wednesday.
Landers are being assembled in Germany and the assembly phase has just begun, Hakamada said. “So we are confident that we will complete this program,” he said.
Using water on the lunar surface is one of the long-term objectives of iSpace. The company hopes to have more capacity to sustain resource utilization activities in the future, Hakamada said.
It is only one of several lunar missions to be launched on SpaceX rockets. NASA announced in April that the space startup was selected to send humans to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis project, with a total prize value of $ 2.89 billion. SpaceX will also take payloads from Jugnu Aerospace to pick up its lunar lander in 2023.