Japan’s ispace strikes deal with SpaceX for launches to the moon in 2020 and 2021

An artist’s conception shows ispace’s lander and rover on the lunar surface. (ispace Illustration)

SpaceX has been signed up to provide rides to the moon for a pair of payloads built by ispace, a Japanese robotics and resource exploration company.

The announcement came today from ispace, the corporate heir to the Google Lunar X Prize’s Team Hakuto. The two lunar missions, tentatively set for 2020 and 2021, are part of a program called Hakuto-R, where Hakuto is the Japanese word for “white rabbit” and the R stands for “reboot.”

Ispace’s lunar orbiter/lander and lunar rovers would fly as secondary payloads on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The primary goal for the first mission would be to put a spacecraft into lunar orbit. That would set the stage for the second mission, aimed at making a soft landing and deploying rovers to gather data on the lunar surface.

“We are entering a new era in space exploration, and SpaceX is proud to have been selected by ispace to launch their first lunar missions,” SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell, was quoted as saying. “We are looking forward to delivering their innovative spacecraft to the moon.”

SpaceX is also involved in SpaceIL’s planned lunar landing, which has been set for a Falcon 9 launch in 2019 with logistical assistance from Seattle-based Spaceflight. An even more ambitious SpaceX mission, aimed at sending Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and a team of artists around the moon and back in a BFR spaceship, is scheduled for as early as 2023.

The founder and CEO of ispace, Takeshi Hakamada, said the Hakuto-R program meshes with SpaceX’s ambitions.

“We share the vision with SpaceX of enabling humans to live in space, so we’re very glad they will join us in this first step of our journey,” Hakamada said.

Hakamada’s venture has more than 65 employees in Japan, Luxembourg and the United States. The venture has raised nearly $95 million in Series A funding over the past year.