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Aerospace & Defense

Japan startup to take UAE rover to the moon in 2022

ispace prepares self-designed lander as it joins race to develop lunar resources

ispace is racing to be among the first private companies to reach the moon. (Photo courtesy of ispace)

TOKYO -- Japanese startup ispace plans to take a United Arab Emirates rover to the moon next year as a global race for the celestial body's resources heats up.

The 10 kg rover, 'Rashid,' which is being developed by the UAE's Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, will be taken to the moon aboard an ispace lander. It is expected to conduct scientific research on the surface of the moon.

The mission is part of the ongoing space development collaboration between Japan and the UAE. In July, a UAE Mars probe was launched on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries H-IIA rocket. In 2018, MHI also launched the UAE's KhalifaSat, an earth observation satellite.

The lunar probe is part of the UAE's long-term vision of sending astronauts to Mars and developing a human settlement there, MBRSC said.

The space center said ispace was selected from among a number of candidates. "We have the confidence that their technology will allow us to reach the surface of the moon," said Hamad Al Marzooqi, project manager of the MBRSC lunar mission, in an online news conference.

That is a huge responsibility for the Japanese startup, for which Takeshi Hakamada, ispace founder and CEO, had admitted was the company's "first mission in lunar exploration."

ispace's 240 kg lander is 2.3 meters tall and 2.6 meters wide. It will be launched by SpaceX, Elon Musk's rocket company, on a Falcon 9 rocket. Once the iSpace lander is placed in the Earth's orbit, it will travel to the moon on its own, land and unload the rover.

The lander will use solar panels for power, which will also allow the rover to communicate with Earth. It will also carry a solid-state battery made by NGK Spark Plug, which intends to examine its battery's lunar performance.

Established in 2010, Tokyo-based ispace is endeavoring to provide transport services to the moon and carry out lunar resource development; it aspires to be among the first private companies to reach the moon.

ispace has raised $130 million from the private sector to fund its lunar missions -- next year's maiden voyage and a second one, in 2023, when the company will take its own rover to the Moon.

For the 2022 mission, ispace is to design the lander, which will be made with components from producers like ArianeGroup. The German company will provide the main propulsion system. The lander will be assembled in Germany and delivered to Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the launch.

Lunar competition is heating.

In 2019, China landed the Chang'e 4 on the far side of the moon, a first for any country. Last year, China's Chang'e 5 explorer carried out a sample-return mission to the moon.

U.S. commercial missions are scheduled for this year as part the NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, aimed at commercial exploration and resource development.

The government-backed Japan Space Exploration Agency intends to demonstrate its precision landing technology by sending what it calls the Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon on a mission next year.

MBRSC said it was planning on forming a long-term relationship with the Japanese startup. "We will keep exploring potential areas of cooperation with ispace as well as with the international space community," said Adnan Al Rais, MBRSC's Mars program manager.

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