NASA’s Artemis I Orion Spacecraft Splashdown: Live Updates and Video
Another day, another rocket launch by SpaceX and another spacecraft going to the moon. That all seems quite normal these days.
SpaceX has already launched its Falcon 9 rocket more than 50 times this year. NASA’s Artemis I, an uncrewed test flight that is a precursor to future astronaut missions, is nearing its return to Earth after in orbit around the moon. CAPSTONE, a small NASA-sponsored CubeSat, is still orbiting the Moon after its launch in June. A robot South Korean satellite, Danuriwas launched to the moon in August.
But the lunar lander carried by a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday is not a NASA mission. Instead, known as M1, it belongs to a small Japanese company, Ispace. The payloads on M1 include a rover from the United Arab Emirates and a small two-wheeled Transformers-like robot for the Japanese Space Agency.
While the mission kicked off at 2:38 a.m. Eastern Time, you’ll have to wait until April to see if these robotic scouts make it there and possibly become the first payload successfully transported to the lunar surface by a private company.
What is Ispace and what does it send to the moon?
The company started out as one of the competitors for the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition that offered a $20 million prize for the first private spacecraft to land on the moon, travel 500 meters and send back video of the lunar surface.
At the time, the Japanese group known as Team Hakuto was focused on developing a rover, and it had to rely on a competing team from India for the ride to the moon’s surface. If that had worked, the two rovers would race to see who could run the 500 meters first.
The group known as Team Hakuto evolved into Ispace, attracting significant investment, and the company plans to launch a series of commercial lunar landers in the coming years.
For Sunday’s mission, payloads include the Rashid lunar rover from the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai; a two-wheeled “transformable lunar robot” from JAXA, the Japanese space agency; a solid-state battery test module from NGK Spark Plug Company; a flight computer with artificial intelligence; and 360-degree cameras from Canadensys Aerospace.
As a remnant of its Lunar X Prize heritage, it also carries a panel inscribed with the names of people who have provided crowdfunding support and a music disc featuring a song performed by Japanese rock band Sakanaction.
The Japanese company’s lander isn’t the only passenger on Sunday’s flight. A secondary payload on the Falcon 9 is a small NASA mission, Lunar Flashlight, which is to enter an elliptical orbit around the moon and use an infrared laser to probe the deep, dark craters in the moon’s polar regions.
Why is it taking so long for Ispace to get to the moon?
Like some other recent lunar missions, M1 is making a circuitous, low-power trip to the moon and won’t land in the Atlas crater in the moon’s northern hemisphere until late April. The fuel-efficient orbit allows the mission to pack more payload and carry less fuel.
What are the other recent visitors to the moon?
As part of the Artemis I mission, NASA’s Orion spacecraft traveled to the moon and then orbited the moon. It will return to Earth later Sunday, with a splash in the Pacific Ocean.
A small NASA-funded mission called CAPSTONE also recently arrived to explore orbit where NASA plans to build a lunar outpost where astronauts will stop on their way to the moon.
And as long as it hasn’t arrived yet, the moon will have a third new visitor next month. Danuri, a South Korean space probewas launched in August and will enter lunar orbit on December 16. The spacecraft will help develop technology for future Korean missions, and it also carries scientific instruments to study the moon’s chemical composition and magnetic field.
Do other companies try what Ispace does?
Called a NASA program Commercial Lunar Payload Services or CLPS, has attempted to send experiments to the surface to the moon. The first two missions, from Houston-based Intuitive Machines and Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, are scheduled to launch next year after significant delays. Intuitive Machines’ lander, which could launch as early as March, could even beat Ispace to the moon as it follows a fast six-day trajectory.
Not being a US company, Ispace could not directly participate in the NASA program. However, it is part of a team led by Draper Technologies of Cambridge, Massachusetts, that won a CLPS mission from NASA. That mission should be launched in 2025.
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