Japanese Spacecraft Captures Intimate Photo of the Moon Ahead of Historic Landing Attempt

The Hakuto-R lunar lander captured this image of the Moon.
The Hakuto-R lunar lander captured this image of the Moon.

A Japanese mission to the Moon seeks to be the first private venture to successfully land on the lunar surface. But before it attempts to touchdown on its dusty surface, the Hakuto-R lunar lander is treating us to some sweet new views of our natural satellite.

On Monday, Tokyo-based company ispace shared its lander’s view of the Moon, which it captured after it entered lunar orbit last week. The image reveals a close-up of the Moon, showing its cratered surface glimmering in the dark depths of space.

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The Hakuto-R mission launched on board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on December 11, carrying commercial and government-owned payloads to the Moon. After traveling through space for three months, Hakuto-R is now in a stable orbit around the Moon following a lunar orbit insertion maneuver on March 21.

Even before its landing attempt, Hakuto-R has to deal with the harsh environment posed by its lunar orbit. “In orbit, the lander periodically enters the Moon’s shadow, causing eclipse from the lander’s perspective similar to what’s seen from Earth,” Neo Masawat, Spaceflight Operations Engineer, wrote on Twitter. “Every eclipse poses challenges,” Masawat added, as temperatures of the spacecraft’s devices drop while it is hidden from the Sun’s warming rays.

Hakuto-R M1 is the inaugural mission of ispace’s lunar exploration program, which aims to provide a low-cost delivery service to the Moon by deploying payloads on the lunar surface for both public and private partners. The M1 lander will also serve as a stationary probe for exploring the surface of the Moon.

The Hakuto-R lander will attempt to land on the Moon in late April, with the exact date of the landing to be determined soon, ispace stated. If it manages to touch down on the surface of the Moon, Japan’s lunar lander will become the first private mission to do so. In 2019, Israel’s private Beresheet lunar lander attempted to land on the Moon but ended up crashing on its surface.

Hakuto-R has a challenging feat ahead, but the small spacecraft is at least on the right path so far.

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