SpaceX Set to Launch Lunar Exploration Missions for Japan, UAE in November

SpaceX will launch Japan’s Hakuto-R lunar lander and the UAE’s Rashid 1 lunar rover between November 9 and November 15, 2022. They will launch on a Falcon 9 rocket.

A Tokyo-based company called ispace built the Hakuto-R lander as a tech demo. Hakuto-R will perform lunar transportation or lunar data acquisition services for three Canadian companies. The lander will also carry a small rover built by the Japanese space agency, JAXA. Ispace plans to follow Hakuto-R up with Mission 2 in 2024 and Mission 3 in 2025.

Japan’s lunar exploration program also includes a small lander that will fly with NASA’s Artemis 1. This mission will launch as soon as next week, pending resolution of troublesome propellant leaks that already delayed Artemis 1’s launch twice this month.

Japan’s space agency, JAXA, is a partner in the International Space Station. JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide previously flew on SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission as part of SpaceX’s contract with NASA to send ISS crews to and from the International Space Station.

Rashid 1 is a 22-kilogram rover that was built by Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai and the smallest to have been built for lunar explanation. The rover is expected to operate for a single day once the combined lander and rover land on the lunar surface.

The UAE already has a deal with China to send Rashid 2 to the Moon’s south pole as part of China’s efforts to reach the Moon. It will fly with the Chang’e 7 mission in 2026.

The UAE has the most successful space program in the Middle East so far. It launched the “Hope” orbiter to Mars on July 19, 2020, and “Hope” reached Martian orbit on February 9, 2021. The UAE plans to establish a rudimentary crewed Martian settlement as early as 2117 and is working on a simulation of that settlement in the Metaverse.

A UAE astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi, will fly to the International Space Station with SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission and will become the first Emirati to serve a six-month increment on the ISS. Emirati astronaut Hazzaa Al Mansoori previously visited the International Space Station in September 2019, during which he conducted 31 scientific experiments.

The teams behind Hakuto-R and Rashid 1 will take a low-powered route to the Moon that will take about five months to reach the designated landing site. NASA’s Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s took a higher-powered route that took about three days to get to the Moon.

Once Hakuto-R and Rashid 1 reach the Moon, they will land in Lacus Somniorum, a basaltic plain in the northeastern part of the Sea of Serenity in the Moon’s northern hemisphere.