SpaceX will launch a Japanese lander and United Arab Emirates (UAE) rover to the moon early Sunday (Dec. 11), and you can watch the action live.
The Japanese company ispace’s Mission 1 is scheduled to lift off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Sunday at 2:38 a.m. EST (0738 GMT) from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
You can watch live here at Space.com, courtesy of SpaceX, or directly via the company (opens in new tab). Coverage will begin about 15 minutes before launch.
Lunar timeline: Humanity’s exploration of the moon
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Mission 1 is the first flight for ispace, which aims to help humanity establish a meaningful footprint on and around the moon.
“Our vision is to establish an economically viable, sustainable ecosystem in cislunar [space],” ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada told Space.com.
If all goes according to plan, the company’s Hakuto-R lander will touch down in April 2023, becoming the first Japanese-built probe ever to ace a lunar landing.
Hakuto-R carries a range of payloads for a variety of customers. Perhaps the most prominent is Rashid, a 22-pound (10 kilograms) rover developed by the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center.
Rashid will snap photos and characterize the lunar surface’s electrically charged environment, among other tasks, during a surface mission that’s expected to last about 14 Earth days.
Mission 1 isn’t the only hardware flying on Sunday morning. The Falcon 9 will also loft a tiny NASA cubesat called Lunar Flashlight, which will hunt for water ice inside craters near the moon’s south pole.
“We are bringing a literal flashlight to the moon — shining lasers into these dark craters to look for definitive signs of water ice covering the upper layer of lunar regolith,” Barbara Cohen, Lunar Flashlight principal investigator at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement (opens in new tab).
“I’m excited to see our mission contribute to our scientific understanding of where water ice is on the moon and how it got to be there,” Cohen added.
Lunar Flashlight will do this work from near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO). This highly elliptical path will also be occupied by Gateway, the small space station NASA plans to assemble via its Artemis program. Only one spacecraft has ever occupied a lunar NRHO to date — CAPSTONE, another NASA cubesat mission, which arrived in the orbit on Nov. 13.
Sunday’s liftoff will be the fourth for this particular Falcon 9 first stage, SpaceX wrote in a mission description (opens in new tab).
If all goes according to plan, the booster will come back to Earth for a landing at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station about 8 minutes and 15 seconds after liftoff. The rocket’s upper stage will deploy Hakuto-R 46.5 minutes into the flight and Lunar Flashlight six minutes after that.
Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12:22 a.m. ET on Nov. 30 with the new launch time of 3:37 a.m. EST on Dec. 1. The launch had been scheduled for Nov. 30, but SpaceX delayed it by a day (opens in new tab) to allow more time for preflight checkouts. It was updated again on Dec. 10 with the new launch date of Dec. 11.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).