The tiny Hakuto-R lunar spacecraft and lander is currently en route to the Moon, but it managed to capture this stellar view of Earth, in what is an encouraging start to the private Japanese mission.
Tokyo-based company ispace’s Hakuto-R spacecraft snapped its first images since launching on Sunday, showing first signs of life during a journey that’s set to take about four months.
The lander launched on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 2:38 a.m. ET on December 11 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. About 19 hours after separating from its launch vehicle, the Hakuto-R spacecraft captured its first images using its mounted camera, ispace announced on Twitter.
Although the crescent shape is associated with the Moon, the image is actually that of Earth as seen from cislunar space. A sliver of the planet is lit by the light of the Sun, while a plate mounted on the spacecraft is visible in the right-hand corner of the image.
The spacecraft captured another image with a multi-camera imaging system developed by Canadensys Aerospace Corporation, revealing a more intimate view of Earth and its familiar blue color.
“We are very pleased with the performance of the imaging system, and with the quality of the first in-space images we have obtained,” Frank Teti, general manager at Canadensys, which designed and built the imaging system, said in a statement. “Designing systems to operate in the harsh environment on the lunar surface is always a challenge, but one we feel we have solved. We look forward to sharing equally spectacular images when we touch-down on the Moon.”
The Hakuto-R’s Mission 1 (M1) will attempt to accomplish what no other private mission has achieved before: successfully land on the surface of the Moon. Israel’s SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries attempted to land its Beresheet lander on the Moon in 2019. However, computer glitches and communications problems led Beresheet to crash onto the lunar surface.
Should ispace become the first private company to land on the Moon, it could usher in a new era of commercial drop-offs on the lunar surface. The Hakuto-R M1 lander will attempt to deliver its own payloads to the Moon, including the 22-pound (10-kilogram) Rashid rover built by the United Arab Emirates and a transformable ball-like robot, named SORA-Q, developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the TOMY toy company.
But this is the first test flight for the Japanese company, and it’s still got a long way to go. The Hakuto-R M1 lander is scheduled to rendezvous with the Moon in April and attempt its landing then. So far, ispace has confirmed that the lander established a stable attitude, as well as a stable power supply in orbit, the company wrote on Twitter.
We’ll be following closely along on its journey, and hoping for a graceful landing on the lunar surface a few months from now.