The sound of nine Merlin engines permeated the Space Coast as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched late in the night, sending ispace’s Hakuto-R series 1 lander into a lunar transfer orbit. Along with the exciting lunar lander from the private Japanese company, NASA and JPL collaborated on a CubeSat, which will scan the moon’s craters with a laser in search of water ice. This resource is paramount for sustained human habitation on the moon – providing breathable oxygen gas, rocket fuel in the form of hydrogen gas, and of course water. It will also be an important resource for the future lunar industry.
Switching focus to the primary payload, it will take four months for the Hakuto-R lander to reach lunar orbit after which another half month will elapse before the actual landing attempt. The landing location will be within a prominent impact crater called Atlas. If successful, it would be the first commercial lunar lander to touch down on the moon. This is big news for the private space industry. Having a vehicle that can potentially be mass-produced will open the door to frequent lunar surface missions for many companies.
The profile for this mission allowed SpaceX to perform a return to launch site (RTLS). Approximately eight minutes after launch, Falcon 9’s first stage returned to Landing Zone 2 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. A succession of thunderous sonic booms generated by the returning booster could be heard from many miles away. In the top image, you can see nearly the entire process of the rocket, which includes initial ascent and separation, as well as the second stage, boost back, re-entry, and landing burns! A true marvel of engineering captured in a single eight-minute exposure.
In Japanese folklore, Hokuto is a mythical white rabbit that was sent to live on the moon. According to the Asian calendar, 2023 is the year of the rabbit. This is timely as the Hakuto-R lander is anticipated to land on the moon in April. A long wait, yet it will certainly be exciting to see the completion of this ambitious mission.