Japan’s ispace is set to achieve a major milestone in space exploration as it prepares to land its spacecraft on the Moon. The privately-owned Japanese company launched its lunar lander, the Series 1 Lander, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, as part of the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 (M1) in December 2022. The spacecraft is expected to touch down on the lunar surface on Tuesday, April 25, 2023, at approximately 10:10 pm IST.
The landing, if successful, will mark the world’s first private lunar landing, as ispace aims to demonstrate its technology and capabilities. The Atlas Crater, located in the northeastern quadrant of the Moon, has been selected as the primary landing site for the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 Lander. The location meets the technical specifications of the lander technology demonstration mission and the mission requirements for different customers of space.
The HAKUTO-R Mission 1 (M1) consists of ten milestones that need to be achieved as part of the mission, and ispace has successfully achieved eight so far. The first milestone, known as ‘Success 1’, was the completion of launch preparations, followed by ‘Success 2’, the completion of launch and deployment. The third milestone, or ‘Success 3’, was the establishment of a steady operation state, or the establishment of a communication link between the lander and the mission control center.
The fourth milestone, or ‘Success 4’, was the completion of the first orbital control manoeuvre, which set the lander on a course toward the Moon. The fifth milestone, or ‘Success 5’, was the completion of stable deep-space flight operations for one month. The sixth milestone, or ‘Success 6’, was the completion of all planned deep space orbital control manoeuvres before lunar orbit insertion, by utilizing gravity assist effects.
The seventh milestone, or ‘Success 7’, was the completion of the first lunar orbit insertion manoeuvre as a result of which the lander reached a lunar orbit. The eighth milestone, or ‘Success 8’, was the completion of all orbit control manoeuvres in lunar orbit before the landing sequence, which was achieved on April 14, 2023.
The ninth milestone, or ‘Success 9’, will be the completion of the lunar landing, which will verify key landing abilities for future missions. The tenth milestone, or ‘Success 10’, will be the establishment of a steady telecommunication and power supply on the lunar surface after the lunar landing to support surface operations of customer payloads.
The Series 1 Lander is a lightweight spacecraft with a small size. As it approaches the Moon, it will brake efficiently to reduce its velocity from orbital speeds. A short pitch-up manoeuvre will be carried out to adjust altitude, and during the terminal approach phase, the landing site on the Moon will become visible, followed by the terminal descent phase.
The final stage is terminal landing, in which the lander will make a vertical descent to the lunar surface. On April 20, 2023, a rare hybrid solar eclipse occurred, and the camera onboard the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander captured a picture of the lunar Earthrise during the solar eclipse at an altitude of about 100 kilometers from the lunar surface. At that moment, the Moon hung perfectly between the Sun and Earth.
On April 15, 2023, the camera onboard the lander captured a picture of the Moon at an altitude of about 100 kilometers above the lunar surface. This is a significant moment for space exploration as it marks the first private lunar landing, and it is expected to open up new opportunities for future missions to the Moon and beyond.