SpaceX will launch Japanese robotic missions to moon from Florida

Ispace selects Falcon 9 to launch first 2 lunar missions in 2020, 2021

The ispace lander and rover HAKUTO-R, which are slarted to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket beginning in mid-2021. (Image credit: ispace)

A Japanese space startup announced it has selected SpaceX to deliver its robotic missions to the moon's surface as soon as 2020.

Ispace said in a news release Wednesday night it has contracted rides on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket for two missions to the moon, including the delivery of a lunar rover and lander. Both missions will blast off from Florida either at Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a spokesperson ispace told News 6.

“We are entering a new era in space exploration and SpaceX is proud to have been selected by ispace to launch their first lunar missions," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said. "We are looking forward to delivering their innovative spacecraft to the moon.”

SpaceX is contracted for two lunar missions for ispace. The first is slated for a mid-2020 launch and will send a spacecraft to orbit around the moon. The second mission, estimated to launch in mid-2021, will land the spacecraft on the moon and deploy rovers to collect data from the lunar surface.

“We share the vision with SpaceX of enabling humans to live in space, so we’re very glad they will join us in this first step of our journey," ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada said.

The first two lunar missions will launch under the name Hakuto-R, Hakuto means "white rabbit," the stands for “reboot," a reference to ispace’s management of Hakuto, a previous incomplete mission which was a Google Lunar XPrize competition finalist.

White rabbit is a reference to Japanese folklore about a white rabbit on the moon.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Dragon spacecraft onboard, launches from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on June 3, 2017 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Ispace, which has partnered with the Japanese Space Agency, or JAXA, and the government of Luxembourg, competed for the $20 million Google Lunar Xprize along with other private startups around the world. The startup has offices in Tokyo, Luxumberg and in California at the NASA Ames Research Center.

The original Lunar XPrize goal was to be the first private company to reach the moon by the end of 2017. The competition ended without a winner last year; however, ispace was a finalist. Five companies selected launch providers to transport their moon robots, but none were close to launching by the deadline. Cape Canaveral-based Moon Express was among the five international finalists.

Ispace is the second company that participated in the Google competition planning on using SpaceX for its lunar missions.

According to rocket ride-sharing company Spaceflight, SpaceIL, an Israel-based company, is also working with SpaceX on its lunar mission. The SpaceIL’s lunar lander is expected to launch sometime next year, GeekWire reported earlier this month.

The new SpaceX contract announcement comes a week after a Japanese entrepreneur said he has placed a down payment with SpaceX, estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars, to carry him and six to eight artists on a mission orbiting the moon. The private mission will launch in the yet-to-be complete Big Falcon Rocket and spaceship.

About the Author:

Emilee Speck

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Previously, Emilee was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a producer at the Naples Daily News. Emilee is a Space Coast native and graduate of the University of North Florida journalism program.

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