Network of Japanese companies announces comprehensive lunar program

Private-public partnership has raised $90 million to fund its first lunar orbiter and lander.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Dec 17, 2017
A Tokyo-based network of Japanese companies working together under the umbrella group Ispace, Inc. announced its plans for a comprehensive lunar exploration program, aiming to send a probe into orbit around the Moon in 2019 and land on the lunar surface the following year.

Ispace, Inc. founder and chief executive Takeshi Hakamada said his company has raised more than $90 million (10.2 billion yen) to fund the project, with most of the money coming from some of the country's largest corporations, including Japan Airlines Co. and TV network Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings, Inc.

The Japanese government's Innovation Network Corp. and the Development Bank of Japan are also major investors in the project.

The 2020 pair of lunar missions will pave the way for a series of landings in subsequent years.

"We wanted to make sure our financing for the next two missions was in place," Hakamada said. "Through these two missions, we're going to validate our technology to land on the Moon safely. After we validate the technology, we're going to enter the lunar transportation business."

The long term goal is to conduct regular transportation missions to the Moon carrying payloads of up to 66 pounds (30 kilograms) per flight.

Currently under development, the lander will be subject to a preliminary design review and a critical design review, both scheduled for next year.

Hakamada said the company is currently in discussions with SpaceX regarding possible launch of its orbiter and/or landers as secondary payload on the Falcon 9 rocket.

Starting in 2021, Ispace, Inc. plans to deploy rovers that will search for water on the Moon. The company believes the Moon could have billions of tons of water, which can be used to make hydrogen fuel that could someday support a permanent human habitat there.

Satellite data from a recent study indicates there could be a significant amount of water beneath the lunar surface.

Even before launching its 2019 lunar orbiter, ISpace, Inc. and its partner, Team Hakuto, are finalists for the Google Lunar X Prize. They willto send a lander and rover to the Moon for this project, which has a deadline of March 31, 2018.

Google will award $20 million to the first privately-funded team that successfully soft lands on the Moon, travels a minimum of 1,640 feet (500 meters) on its surface, and sends back high-definition photos and videos of the project to Earth.

Though it will take decades to carry out, Ispace, Inc. envisions establishing a permanent human settlement on the Moon in which Earth and its satellite will comprise a "single ecosystem."

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