While none of the competitors took out the X Prize Foundation’s competition to send a vessel to the moon by the March 31 deadline, some of the businesses are still trying to reach the lunar surface. Japanese company ispace has booked a flight on the SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2020 and another in 2021.
The reason for the two flights is simple – orbit and landing. The first flight will perform a stable orbit of the moon and if this works, the second will land on the surface. The first payload is significantly less than the second and it’s likely that both will take place regardless of the performance of the first, with adjustments being made based on either failed or successful metrics.
This means a significant expansion for ispace, whose original plan during the X Prize – where they were known as Team HAKUTO – involved them hitching a ride on a fellow competitor’s lander. Now, with a full lander and rover lander vehicle in the works, all the glory, and risk, falls with ispace.
Perhaps most interesting is the detail of the testing. If the original orbit is successful, ispace will leave their vehicle in orbit for more than a month, with data being sent back to earth. During this time, they will test the impact of the orbit on the vehicle, evaluate potential landing zones and perform other tests that will no doubt be of interest to the scientific community – and mankind in general – and create a basis for future tests.
The real story here, as usual, is Space X. The Falcon 9 will become the vehicle responsible for the delivery of not only commercial payloads, but also potentially the first permanent scientific structures on the moon. This will have permanent ramifications, far beyond space tourism, and could increase our understanding of the world beyond our atmosphere in far more practical terms than satellites can currently provide.