SpaceX launches lunar lander for Japanese venture ispace, which aims to create an economy around the moon -- Dec 12

Japanese lunar exploration company ispace began its long-anticipated first mission on Sunday, with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching the venture’s lunar lander from Florida.

“This is the very, very beginning of a new era,” ispace founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada told CNBC.

The Tokyo-based company’s Mission 1 is currently on its way to the moon, with a landing expected near the end of April.

Founded more than a decade ago, ispace originated as a team competing for the Google Lunar Xprize under the name Hakuto – after a mythological Japanese white rabbit. After the Xprize competition was canceled, ispace pivoted and expanded its goals, with Hakamada aiming to create “an economically viable ecosystem” around the moon, he said in a recent interview.

The company has grown steadily as it worked toward this first mission, with over 200 employees around the world – including about 50 at its U.S. subsidiary in Denver. Additionally, ispace has steadily raised funds from a wide variety of investors, bringing in $237 million to date through a mixture of equity and debt. The investors of ispace include the Development Bank of Japan, Suzuki Motor, Japan Airlines, and Airbus Ventures.

The ispace Mission 1 lander carries small rovers and payloads for a number of government agencies and companies – including from the U.S., Canada, Japan, and the United Arab Emirates. ...continue reading