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ispace lander and rover
Artwork shows ispace’s Hakuto-R lander and rover on the lunar surface. (ispace Illustration)

The Japanese moon venture known as ispace says it has recruited new corporate partners and struck a deal to put a commercial payload on its Hakuto-R lunar lander.

Ispace has arranged for two spacecraft to be launched to the moon, in 2020 and 2021, as secondary payloads on SpaceX rockets. Those will be rideshare missions similar to the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch that sent SpaceIL’s Israeli-made lander on its way to the moon tonight.

Like SpaceIL, ispace includes veterans of a team that competed in the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize. Team Hakuto took its name from the Japanese word for “white rabbit.” The R in the name of ispace’s Hakuto-R lunar project stands for “reboot.”

Ispace says it’s raised nearly $95 million in funding to support the Hakuto-R campaign. The 2020 mission would put a probe in lunar orbit, and the 2021 mission would send a lander and rover spacecraft to the lunar surface.

In a news release issued today, ispace says Japan-based NGK Spark Plug Co. has agreed to be a corporate partner in the Hakuto-R program. Part of the partnership will involve developing a payload to test solid-state battery technology on the moon.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, solid-state batteries don’t need to be kept above freezing temperatures — which NGK and ispace say would make them more suitable for space exploration applications.

NGK is working on a solid-state technology that makes use of oxide-based ceramic electrolytes rather than the liquid electrolytes in lithium-ion batteries. “We will seek the possibilities of all-solid-state batteries and contribute to space development,” said Shinichi Odo, NGK’s president and CEO.

Takeshi Hakamada, ispace’s founder and CEO, welcomed the partnership.

“Stable power supply will be the most critical component to enable industry to take to the moon. Ultimately, this means NGK Spark Plug’s contributions will facilitate the expansion of human presence into outer space,” Hakamada said.

Among other partnerships:

  • Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance, a subsidiary of MS&AD Insurance Group Holdings, will cooperate with ispace on the development of a lunar insurance service. “The availability of lunar exploration insurance will encourage new players to participate in the lunar industry by reducing the risk of entry,” Hakamada said in a news release.
  • Japan Airlines, which previously partnered with Team Hakuto, will continue to support ispace’s Hakuto-R campaign. JAL Engineering Company will provide a facility near Narita International Airport for the assembly, integration and testing of Hakuto-R spacecraft, will lend technical support on tasks such as welding, and support the transportation of spacecraft to the launch site. JAL also contributed to ispace’s funding round.
  • The Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun will serve as ispace’s media partner, following up on the role it played with Team Hakuto during the Google Lunar X Prize competition. Asahi Shimbun will continue to promote Hakuto-R and its activities via print and digital media as well as through events.
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