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NASA’s Orion capsule returns to Earth as ispace’s lunar lander takes off

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Sunday was a historic day for commercial and public space ventures, with NASA’s Orion capsule returning to Earth just hours after the launch of a lunar lander funded and built by Japanese company ispace.

The two missions – NASA’s Artemis I conclusion and iSpace’s Mission 1 – are among the clearest signs yet that the moon will likely become a permanent site for science missions and commercial activities.

ispace lander makes its way to the lunar surface

Ispace launched Mission 1 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida early Sunday morning. If successful, the mission will be the first to place a fully funded, privately-built lander on the lunar surface.

Picture credits: spaces (Opens in a new window)

The Tokyo-based startup has been working on technology for the moon for more than a decade. The company operated as Team Hakuto in the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition aimed at stimulating the development of commercial lunar landers. After this competition ended without a winner, ispace continued to develop its technology. He revived the Hakuto name for the lunar lander that launched on Sunday, dubbed “Hakuto-R” – both in homage to its origin story and in recognition that the project is a “reboot” of the original project.

It’s been a long launch, ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada told TechCrunch during a panel at TC Sessions: Space last week.

“Twelve years is a long time to survive,” he said. “We had a lot of ups and downs.”

The highs include a notable amount of funding: The company raised more than $235 million in a series of seed rounds, the last of which closed last August. Hakamada recognized the importance of financing for technology-focused companies.

“In the space industry, a lot of people think technology is very important. It’s not wrong,” he said. However, the most important thing is the money. To start something, you need money, you need to hire people, you need to get something. Thinking about funding is the first thing to do, even as a tech company.

The company has set 10 mission milestones for Mission 1, the mission that launched on Sunday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Ispace has completed milestones 1 and 2 (completion of launch preparations and actual launch); the company will take the final step once the Hakuto-R lander establishes stable power and communications on the lunar surface. The lander, which carries several government and commercial payloads for customers including Canada and the United Arab Emirates, is scheduled to land on the Moon in April. Ispace aims to launch its second mission in 2024.

Artemis I concludes with the return of Orion

Hours after ispace launched the lander, NASA’s Orion spacecraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean, marking a dramatic end to the agency’s Artemis I mission. Artemis I, which began with the launch of the Space Launch System mega-rocket in November, was the first in a series of planned missions aimed at getting humans back to the moon by the end of this decade. The main purpose of Artemis I was to test the Orion spacecraft before it carried the crew. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters shortly after the splashdown that the mission had been “extraordinarily successful”.

“It’s the start of a new beginning, and that’s exploring the skies.”

The capsule traveled 1.4 million miles during its 25-day mission around the moon and back. While the agency is still reviewing data on Orion’s performance, particularly the performance of its heat shields, NASA’s Orion program manager Howard Hu said at the press conference that the agency is satisfied with what she had examined so far.

Artemis II, which will take place in 2024 at the earliest, will be crewed, although the four-person team will not land on the moon. This honor will go to the crew members of Artemis III. NASA has awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build the Starship landing system for the mission, which is expected to launch before the end of the decade.

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