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SpaceX indefinitely delays launch of world's first private Moon lander

Chron logo Chron 11/30/2022 Ariana Garcia

UPDATE: December 1, 9 a.m. CT

SpaceX has delayed its launch of a Japanese moon lander for a second time this week, this time indefinitely. The Hakuto-R lander, built by Tokyo-based company ispace, was set to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Thursday at 2:37 a.m. CT.

"After further inspections of the launch vehicle and data review, we're standing down from tomorrow's launch of @ispace_inc's HAKUTO-R Mission 1; a new target launch date will be shared once confirmed," SpaceX wrote on Twitter around 6 p.m. CT Wednesday. The mission was originally set to launch early Wednesday but was postponed to Thursday "to allow for additional pre-flight checkouts."

--- End of Update ---

SpaceX is preparing for an early morning launch on Thursday of Tokyo-based company ispace's Hakuto-R Mission 1, which if successful will become the first privately-led Japanese mission to land on the lunar surface. Hakuto-R Mission 1 is scheduled for liftoff atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 2:37 a.m. CT Thursday.

Originally scheduled for Wednesday morning, the launch was postponed to "allow for additional pre-flight checkouts," SpaceX announced on Twitter overnight. A live webcast of the mission, which will be available on the SpaceX website and YouTube, is scheduled to begin about 15 minutes before takeoff. Deployment of the Hakuto-R spacecraft is slated to occur around the 46-minute mark. 

For Mission 1, ispace has set 10 goals they are hoping to complete on the exploration mission, which includes landing within the Moon's Atlas crater by April 2023. The mission's results will be evaluated against success criteria and incorporated into future missions already in development through 2025, according to a company news release.

The Hakuto-R M1 lander will also attempt to deliver both private and public payloads for lunar orbit and the Moon's surface, including the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Lunar Flashlight, a briefcase-sized satellite that will use lasers to hunt for water ice inside craters in permanently shadowed regions near the Moon's south pole. The probe's findings will serve as a valuable resource for future Artemis missions to the lunar surface. 

"We are bringing a literal flashlight to the Moon – shining lasers into these dark craters to look for definitive signs of water ice covering the upper layer of lunar regolith," said Barbara Cohen, Lunar Flashlight principal investigator at NASA, in a statement. "I’m excited to see our mission contribute to our scientific understanding of where water ice is on the Moon and how it got to be there."

Other Hakuto-R payloads include a small, 22-pound lunar rover called "Rashid" developed by the United Arab Emirates, a baseball-sized lunar robot from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and a CD containing the song "SORATO" by Japanese rock band Sakanaction, which was written in support of Team Hakuto. 

A second mission, slated for 2024, will perform a soft landing and deploy a rover for surface exploration and data collection on the Moon. For Mission 3 and beyond, ispace plans to increase the frequency of lunar landings and rover expeditions to deliver payloads to the Moon. "Our landers will deploy swarms of rovers to the lunar surface to pioneer the discovery and development of lunar resources, enabling the steady development of lunar industry and human presence on the Moon," ispace wrote on its website.

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