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Astro Bob: Hakuto-R to land on the moon Tuesday, April 25

Japan's iSpace hopes to be the first commercial company to successfully land a rover on the moon.

Hakuto-R Earth
Hakuto-R took this photo of the Earth while in orbit around the moon during the total solar eclipse on April 20. The dark smudge on the planet is the shadow cast by the moon during totality.
Contributed / iSpace

For millennia the moon was a quiet sanctuary we gazed at from afar. Then in the 1960s humans set foot there. More spacecraft and robotic missions followed. Due to cost and risk, nearly all of these were government funded ventures.

Hakuto-R lander
This artist's view depicts the Hakuto-R lander on the lunar surface. It stands 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) tall.
Contributed / iSpace

Enter iSpace , a Japanese lunar robotic exploration company, hopes to be the first private business to land a spacecraft on the moon. And that could happen as soon as Tuesday, April 25. Launched in December 2022, the company's Hakuto-R spacecraft has been orbiting the moon in preparation for a soft-landing in Atlas Crater. Hakuto is the Japanese word for 'white rabbit,' a reference to the East Asian mythical rabbit said to live on the moon. Live stream coverage starts around 10 a.m. CDT, with touchdown on the lunar surface expected at 11:40 a.m.

You can watch it go down just by clicking the youtube screen above. If touchdown is successful, the lander will deploy a 22-pound (10 kg) Rashid rover built by the United Arab Emirates and a baseball-sized robo-ball. The rover, named after Dubai's royal family, will take pictures and study the lunar soil and charged particles in the moon's scant atmosphere.

The robot ball was designed by a Japanese toy company and measures just just 3.1 inches (8 cm) across. Once released it will pop open to form a cylinder with the ball's hemispheres serving as wheels. As it rolls across the dusty surface the mini-bot will gather data and take photos of the moon's soil โ€” called regolith. Lunar dust consists of tiny, sharp, glassy fragments that can damage lung tissue if accidentally breathed in. Learning more about its properties will help keep future astronauts safe.

iSpace hopes to become a key player in transporting private and government payloads, experiments and equipment to the moon as activity ramps up on our nearest celestial neighbor in the coming decades. It already has a contract with NASA to collect and return lunar soil samples. You can read more about its plans and keep up on the progress of the current mission on the company's Twitter account .

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Atlas crater
Atlas Crater is easily visible in a small telescope. This simulation shows the moon's appearance for Tuesday night, April 25. Altas is paired with the crater Hercules in the moon's northern hemisphere.
Contributed / Virtual Moon Atlas

More than anything Hakuto-R will be a demonstration of technology. Can the company successfully land a lunar probe and establish communications with Earth? The rest is gravy. Its landing site is the prominent, 50-mile-wide crater Atlas located on the lunar nearside and easily visible in a small telescope. The mission will operate for one lunar sunrise to sunset, or about 14 days.

"Astro" Bob King is a freelance writer and retired photographer for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at nightsky55@gmail.com.
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