The Japanese lander that will deliver the UAE’s first rover, Rashid, to the lunar surface, is in the final stages of assembly.
Unspecified technical problems in 2020 delayed the launch of the Hakuto-R lander by a year.
Now, the lunar flight model has reached its final stages of assembly and is on schedule for a launch in the fourth quarter of 2022. It will be carried to space on a Falcon 9 rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
Being developed by private space company ispace, the lander has been moved from Japan to Germany for the final stages, the company announced on Wednesday.
“Today, ispace announced that it began the assembly of the flight model for its lunar lander, which is to be used in the company’s first mission, scheduled to launch in 2022,” ispace said.
“This is a major engineering milestone in the development of the lander and part of the final stretch towards our first mission.”
The Rashid rover, which is being developed by a group of start-up companies and engineers from the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC), will be one of six payloads on board the lander.
Others include a transformable lunar robot by Japan’s space agency Jaxa, a solid-state battery test module by NGK Spark Plug, an artificial intelligence flight computer by Canada’s Mission Control Space Services, cameras by Canada’s Canadensys and panels engraved with the names of the lander’s crowdfunding supporters.
“Despite setbacks caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as delays in the supply chain, personnel limits at testing facilities, remote work communications, travel restrictions, and other issues, ispace’s engineers were steadfast in their operations and managed to remain on schedule,” ispace said.
The final assembly of the lander is being carried out in co-operation with the Ariane Group at its facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany.
The assembly and integration of all the payloads, ispace said, are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year, which suggests the Rashid rover could be completed by December.
After final testing of the lander is completed early next year, it will be shipped to the US in the second half of 2022 for the launch.
Using a lander and rocket that is already available helps Emirati engineers and scientists get quicker and easier access to space.
Last month, the UAE revealed its long-term Moon exploration programme at a global space conference in Russia.
The Emirates plans to send several rovers and orbiters to the Moon, with the second rover scheduled for a launch in 2024 or 2025.
“A lot of people asked the question why we skipped over the Moon when we launched the Hope probe to Mars. But we’ve kicked off our latest project, which is the Rashid rover that will explore the lunar surface,” said Salem Al Marri, deputy director-general of MBRSC.
“Our objective is to build and send a second rover by 2024 or 2025. There are plans [to send] orbiters around the Moon and we do have an eye on human exploration of the Moon in partnership with different players.”
Rashid will explore the near side of the Moon, which offers a smoother surface with fewer craters, but the terrain is still unpredictable.
The four-wheeled rover can climb over obstacles with a maximum height of 10 centimetres and descend a 20-degree slope.
Rashid will study the properties of lunar soil, the geology of the Moon, dust movement and its photoelectron sheath for one lunar day – about two weeks.
It will send back more than 1,000 images of the lunar surface.