Lunar lander chief 'very confident' of successful Rashid rover launch tomorrow

The Arab world's first Moon mission will launch on November 30

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The chief of the lunar exploration company carrying the UAE’s Rashid rover on its lander has said he is “very confident” as the mission nears lift-off.

“It’s a great, exciting moment,” Takeshi Hakamada, founder and chief executive of ispace, told The National in Florida ahead of the launch.

The Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, built by ispace, was integrated on to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for a launch on November 30 at 12.39pm UAE time from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

On board the privately funded lander is a small rover developed by engineers at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre, which aims to spend 14 days studying an unexplored region of the Moon.

Once SpaceX delivers the lander to its intended orbit in space on Wednesday, it will begin its solo journey to the Moon, with a landing expected at the end of April.

“We started this company 12 years ago, so we’ve come a long way, but we’ve already achieved so much and I really appreciate all the people who supported this mission,” Mr Hakamada said.

“Also, I’m very confident on this first mission because our engineers put best effort possible to mature our technology and we integrated external knowledge as well.”

Landmark mission for private space industry, the UAE and Japan

If ispace manages to achieve a lunar landing, it would help the UAE place the Arab world’s first rover on the Moon’s surface.

It would also make the company the first to land a privately led mission on the Moon.

In the future, ispace hopes to provide regular delivery services to the Moon for government and private sector clients.

This will be a technology demonstration mission that is carrying multiple payloads, including from Japan’s space agency Jaxa, Nasa and Canada.

However, landing on the Moon is no easy task with one-third of missions failing.

Only the US, the former Soviet Union and China have achieved soft landings on the lunar surface.

Most recently, landers from India and Israel have crash-landed on the surface.

Because the Moon has no atmosphere, spacecraft have to carry out complex manoeuvres instead of using parachutes to slow down like during landings on Earth and Mars.

“Lunar missions are not easy, however, it’s not impossible,” said Mr Hakamada.

“We know that we’ve had several lunar landings during the Apollo era and recently by China.”

From humble beginnings

Ispace was a small start-up a decade ago, but now it is one of the fastest growing private lunar exploration companies.

In 2017, it managed to raise $90.2 million in funding from the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition that aims to boost lunar exploration efforts.

“Since then, we have been growing a lot,” said Mr Hakamada.

“And right now we have over 200 employees globally, including in Japan, US and Europe.”

The company also won a contract by Nasa to collect lunar regolith, or soil, and transfer ownership to the space agency.

Other companies are also attempting to achieve lunar landings.

US-based company Astrobotic plans to launch its Peregrine lander in early 2023, with payloads from eight countries.

What does this mission mean for the UAE?

The Rashid rover is the first mission under the UAE long-term Moon exploration programme.

It will study the properties of lunar soil, the petrography and geology of the Moon, dust movement and study surface plasma conditions and the Moon's photoelectron sheath.

Lunar dust is one of the main challenges astronauts face on the Moon, as it sticks to spacesuits, causing erosion and operational problems.

With space agencies determined to send humans to the Moon again, razor-sharp lunar dust particles remain a concern as they stick to nearly everything.

A small team of Emirati engineers have developed the UAE's lunar mission. Here they are pictured inside the clean room, along with the Rashid rover, in the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre on June 15, 2022. Photo: MBRSC

The Rashid rover is designed to address this problem with an experiment that will test different materials against the dust.

Called the material adhesive experiment, a variety of test samples would be attached to the rover’s wheels.

In addition, mission control in Dubai is expecting to receive thousands of images from the rover.

The rover is named in honour of the late Sheikh Rashid Al Saeed, the former Ruler of Dubai and the father of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

Emirati engineers are already working on Rashid 2, which will launch on China's Chang’e-7 lunar south pole mission in 2026.

Updated: November 30, 2022, 4:30 AM
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