Japan’s ispace Delays Moon Mission for NASA Design Update

An illustration of the Apex 1.0 lunar lander on the surface of the Moon.
Illustration: ispace

From its new headquarters in the U.S., Tokyo-based startup ispace will develop its Apex 1.0 lunar lander to transport NASA payloads to the Moon in 2026.

During a media briefing held Thursday, ispace unveiled its new lander design which will be used to deliver payloads to the surface of the Moon. ispace also announced that it was establishing its U.S. headquarters in Denver, Colorado, so that it can better serve its American customers.

The company’s upcoming mission has been delayed by a year in order to make time for the development of the lunar lander, which will replace the company’s Series-2 lander. Compared to Series-2, Apex 1.0 has a larger payload capacity, with the ability to carry up to 660 pounds (300 kilograms) to the lunar surface.

The reason ispace scrapped its original design was to accommodate the primary customer for its upcoming mission: NASA. The private space company signed a $55 million contract with NASA for Mission 3, which will use Apex 1.0 to deliver approximately 210 pounds (95 kg) of scientific payloads to near the lunar south pole. ispace joined a team led by Draper Laboratory to deliver the NASA payloads as part of the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services.

“The updated schedule enables Team Draper and ispace – U.S. to accommodate sensitive payloads by harnessing APEX 1.0’s enhanced capabilities for Mission 3, which is targeting a technically challenging landing location on the far side of the Moon,” ispace wrote.

The company attempted its first lunar landing with the Hakuto-R Mission 1 in April, which ended in a fatal crash on the Moon’s cratered surface. Hakuto-R M1 was carrying both commercial and government-owned payloads, including a tiny, two-wheeled transformable robot from the Japanese space agency. With its lunar landers, ispace wants to initiate a new era for commercial space ventures by delivering payloads to the Moon on a regular basis.

ispace wants to launch its second mission to the Moon in 2024, hoping to stick the landing this time. The M2 lander will carry commercial payloads as well as ispace’s own micro rover, which will collect data from the surface of the Moon.

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