Japan’s Ispace Lander Launches to the Moon With a UAE Rover

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As a vestige of its Lunar X Prize heritage, it is also carrying a panel engraved with the names of people who provided crowdfunding support and a music disc with a song performed by the Japanese rock band Sakanaction.

The Japanese company’s lander is not 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 at the moon’s polar regions.

Much like some other recent moon missions, M1 is taking a circuitous, energy-efficient trip to the moon and will not land, in the Atlas Crater in the Northern Hemisphere of the moon, until late April. The fuel-efficient trajectory allows the mission to pack in more payload and carry less fuel.

As part of the Artemis I mission, NASA’s Orion spacecraft traveled to, then orbited, the moon. It will return to Earth later on Sunday, with a splashdown into the Pacific Ocean.

A small NASA-financed mission called CAPSTONE also arrived recently to explore an orbit in which NASA plans to build a lunar outpost where astronauts will stop on the way to the moon.

And while it hasn’t arrived yet, the moon will get a third new visitor next month. Danuri, a South Korean space probe, was launched in August and is due to enter lunar orbit on Dec. 16. The spacecraft will help the development of technology for future Korean missions, and it also carries scientific instruments to study the moon’s chemical composition and magnetic field.

A NASA program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, has been looking to send experiments to the surface to the moon. The first two missions, from Intuitive Machines of Houston and Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh, plan to launch next year after considerable delays. Intuitive Machines’ lander, which could be launched as early as March, could even beat Ispace to the moon because it’s using a quick six-day trajectory.

Because it is not an American company, Ispace could not directly participate in the NASA program. However, it is part of a team led by Draper Technologies of Cambridge, Mass., that has won a CLPS mission from NASA. That mission is scheduled to be launched in 2025.