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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 5°C
SpaceX Twitter The Falcon 9 rocket.
Moon Lander

SpaceX again postpones launch of moon lander carrying DCU samples

Until now, only the United States, Russia and China have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface.

SPACEX HAS AGAIN postponed the launch of the world’s first private lander to the Moon, a mission undertaken by Japanese firm ispace.

A Falcon 9 rocket was scheduled to blast off at 3.37am (8.37am Irish time) this morning from Cape Canaveral in the US state of Florida, but SpaceX said further checks on the vehicle had led to a delay.

“After further inspections of the launch vehicle and data review, we’re standing down from tomorrow’s launch of @ispace_inc’s HAKUTO-R Mission 1; a new target launch date will be shared once confirmed,” the firm tweeted yesterday.

The mission is to carry polymer and metal samples created in a DCU lab to the moon. The samples were produced in the university’s School of Chemical Sciences and were affixed to the wheel of the Rashid Lunar Rover.

They will be the first Irish samples to reach the moon since the 1970s.

Speaking to The Journal, Dr Susan Kelleher, an Assistant Professor of Polymer Chemistry at DCU who led the preparation of the samples, confirmed yesterday that they are still aboard the vessel and will be used to study how moon dust adheres to different surfaces.

“Moon dust is very sticky and gets everywhere,” she said. “It’s abrasive and can damage seals on instruments or interfere with electronics.”

“It’s been named as one of NASA’s top ten challenges in getting to the moon and further still, understanding how to stop [its dust] from sticking things is a big question.”

Eight sample surfaces, a combination of polymer and metal samples with micro- and nano-scale patterns on their surface as well as unpatterned control samples, were prepared for the lunar rover  last year with the help of funding from both Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council.

The United Arab Emirates Space Centre and the European Space Agency worked alongside Dr Kelleher and her team throughout the project.

Until now, only the United States, Russia and China have managed to put a robot on the lunar surface.

The mission by ispace is the first of a program called Hakuto-R. The lander would touch down around April 2023 on the visible side of the Moon, in the Atlas crater, according to a company statement.

The delay came after the launch had already been postponed by a day due to the need for additional pre-flight checks.

Measuring just over 2 by 2.5 meters, the lander carries on board a 10-kilogram rover named Rashid, built by the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE is a newcomer to the space race but counts recent successes including sending a probe into Mars’ orbit last year. If it succeeds, Rashid will be the Arab world’s first Moon mission.

“We have achieved so much in the six short years since we first began conceptualizing this project in 2016,” said ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada.

ispace, which has just 200 employees, says it “aims to extend the sphere of human life into space and create a sustainable world by providing high-frequency, low-cost transportation services to the Moon.”

- Additional reporting Sarah McGuinness

© AFP 2022 

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