SpaceX is set to launch Wednesday’s first secret — and Japanese — mission to the Moon.
The Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off at 3:39 a.m. (0839 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Thursday.
So far, only the United States, Russia, and China have been able to put a robot on the moon.
The project, developed by Japanese company ispace, is the first in a program called Hakuto-R.
The burner will arrive at the end of April 2023 on the visible side of the Moon, in the Atlas valley, according to the company’s statement.
Measuring over 2 by 2.5 meters (6.5 by 8 feet), it carries a 10-kilogram rover named Rashid, built by the United Arab Emirates.
The oil-rich country is a newcomer to the space race but counts on recent successes including the exploration of Mars in 2020. If successful, Rashid will be the first mission of the Arab Moon in the world.
“We have accomplished a lot in the six years since we first conceptualized the project in 2016,” said ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada.
Hakuto was one of five finalists in the global Google Lunar XPrize competition, a challenge to land a rover on the Moon before the 2018 deadline, which ended without a winner. But some work is still going on.
Another finalist, from Israel’s SpaceIL agency, failed in April 2019 to become the first privately funded mission to achieve this goal, after falling to the ground while attempting to land.
ispace, which has only 200 employees, says it “aims to expand the role of human life in space and create a sustainable world by providing high-quality, low-cost, trips to the Moon”.
Future missions are planned to support NASA’s Artemis program. Artemis-1, a test flight to the Moon, is underway.
The US Space Agency wants to improve the lunar economy in the coming years by building a lunar orbiter and a surface station.
It has awarded contracts to a number of companies to deploy astronauts to take scientific experiments to the surface.
Among them, the American company Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines is supposed to take off in 2023, and it could reach its destination before ispace by passing a direct route, according to reports.
© Agence France-Presse