ispace postpones Mission 3 by one year, the lunar lander is redesigned as "APEX1.0".

ispace postpones Mission 3 by one year, the lunar lander is redesigned as "APEX1.0".


Publication Date: October 2, 2023, 07:05

On September 28, ispace held a press conference to discuss their upcoming third lunar exploration mission, "Mission 3". Although the mission's outline was announced in August 2021, the company has significantly altered the design of the lander and renamed it "APEX1.0". This design change has also led to a delay in the launch schedule, pushing it back from 2025 to 2026.

ispace's "APEX1.0" Lander (C)ispace

The company has already carried out its first lunar exploration mission, "Mission 1". Despite a failure to land on the lunar surface in the final stage, the mission successfully reached lunar orbit without any major malfunctions. The descent was also partially successful, marking a significant achievement for the company's first mission.

Related: The reason for ispace's lunar landing failure: a malfunction in the program due to the impact of crater terrain?

For "Mission 1" and the planned "Mission 2" in 2024, the company used the "Series 1" lander. For the subsequent "Mission 3", they had planned to use a larger "Series 2" lander. However, the newly announced APEX1.0 is the redesigned version of the old Series 2 lander.

The name "APEX" stands for "A Pioneer in EXploration". The term "APEX" also means "peak" in English, and Takeshi Hakamada, CEO & Founder of ispace, explained that it represents the company's goal to reach the pinnacle in lunar landers.

Online meeting attended by Takeshi Hakamada, CEO & Founder (left), and Junpei Nozaki, Director & CFO (right)

"Mission 3" will carry a payload from NASA. NASA has selected the team from the Draper Laboratory as the implementation contractor for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). The lander development is being handled by ispace's US subsidiary, which will transport 95kg of scientific experiment equipment for the manned lunar exploration program "Artemis" to the far side of the lunar south pole.

However, it was discovered that some of the planned payloads require "more careful handling", leading to a revision of the development schedule. The launch has been delayed by a year, and the lander's design has been changed to include vibration protection features. There were also delays in procuring some long-lead items, but these can be absorbed by the launch delay.

The APEX1.0 lander can carry a maximum payload of 300kg. While the Series 1 lander adopted an orbit that saves fuel but takes longer, the APEX1.0 lander adopts a direct-to-moon orbit, allowing it to reach the moon in a shorter period. The payload capacity will be gradually increased, with a future goal of achieving 500kg.

A major feature of "Mission 3" is that it will land on the far side of the moon. Since the Earth is always out of sight from the far side and direct communication is not possible, two communication relay satellites will be mounted on the top of the lander. These will be separated in lunar orbit and will relay communications from the lander on the lunar surface. The relay satellites are ultra-small satellites weighing less than 100kg, which will be procured in the US.

The specifications of the lander, such as its size and weight, are not disclosed. However, from the 3D model video shown at the new office opening ceremony held in the US the next day, it can be seen that the main body is octagonal and has solar panels mounted on six sides. Inside, supported by a truss structure, four thick tanks and two thin tanks can be seen.

Various angles of the lander can be seen in the event's CG. This pattern is available on YouTube (C)ispace

The old Series 2 lander was initially expected to be about 3.5m high and about 4.2m wide, capable of transporting a maximum payload of 500kg to the lunar surface. The APEX1.0 has undergone a major design change from this, adding vibration protection features and considering manufacturing efficiency.

Design of the old Series 2 lander announced in August 2021. Since it was before the CLPS order, it has an antenna for communication with Earth (C)ispace

Design announced at the time of the CLPS order (July 2022). The details are different, but overall it doesn't seem to have changed much (C)ispace

The payload for "Mission 3" is already 95kg for the CLPS portion, but there is still room. The remaining portion is available for other customers, and there are recent cases where contracts have been concluded with US companies.

The development status of the APEX1.0 lander has already completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). Currently, development is underway for the next milestone, the Critical Design Review (CDR), which is scheduled to be completed by the end of fiscal 2023. Once the CDR is completed, the next step will be the manufacturing stage of the flight model, which is also planned to be carried out in the US.

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Please note that this article is based on information available at the time of publication and may differ from the latest information.

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