SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched a highly anticipated payload on Sunday, which included ispace’s Hakuto-R spacecraft and NASA’s Lunar Flashlight.
The rocket lifted off at 2:38 a.m. ET on December 11 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch was delayed twice before the rocket finally made it off the launch pad, delivering a precious payload on a journey towards the Moon.
Packed inside the Falcon 9 rocket was a private Japanese lunar mission from Tokyo-based company ispace. The Hakuto-R’s Mission 1 (M1) lander will attempt to land on the lunar surface, and if successful, it would make it the first private mission to achieve a landing on the Moon. As Israel-based SpaceIL first found out, landing on the moon isn’t easy. The Beresheet probe crash-landed on the Moon back in 2019.
The Hakuto-R M1 lander will also attempt to deliver its own payload 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.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s payload also included NASA’s Lunar Flashlight, a probe that’s designed to search for water ice in permanently shadowed craters on the Moon from a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). The smallsat was released from its dispenser about 53 minutes after launch to begin a four month journey to the Moon, according to NASA.
“It was a beautiful launch,” John Baker, the Lunar Flashlight project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in the NASA statement. “The whole team is excited to see this small spacecraft do some big science in a few months’ time.”
SpaceX had originally planned to launch its Falcon 9 rocket on November 30 but initially delayed it a day to “allow for additional pre-flight checkouts.” Later on, the company announced that it was delaying the launch indefinitely without providing a specific reason.
Last week, SpaceX tweeted that the launch was back on. “Teams completed additional vehicle inspections and reviews; rocket and payload are looking good for launch of the ispace_inc HAKUTO-R mission 1,” the company wrote.
It’s still not clear why the rocket needed additional inspections, but at least it managed to deploy its payload successfully.