Japan’s lunar startup ispace delays NASA-sponsored mission to 2026

By Kantaro Komiya

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s lunar transport startup ispace inc said on Thursday it would postpone a future moon landing mission by a year to 2026 to better prepare for a commission by U.S. agency NASA, as well as deal with component supply delays.

Tokyo-based ispace attempted its first lunar landing with the Hakuto-R Mission 1 spacecraft in April, which failed due to an altitude miscalculation. The Financial Times had reported earlier this month that months of corporate turmoil preceded the mission’s failure.

Speaking after the delay was announced, Chief Executive Takeshi Hakamada told a media briefing that the scientific equipment NASA has commissioned ispace to carry to the moon turned out to require a higher vibration absorption standard. He did not elaborate.

The U.S. unit of ispace, which has partnered with spacecraft software developer Draper to build lunar landers, has also encountered procurement delays for some parts, Hakamada said.

The company on Thursday also unveiled the design of its third lander named “APEX 1.0” which would be able to take a shorter trajectory to the moon, although its maximum load was reduced by 40% from a previous plan to 300kg.

Asked about the load reduction, Hakamada said it was due to “purely technological considerations”.

There is no change to the launch schedule of ispace’s second mission in 2024, but missions that will follow its delayed third mission may be postponed, the company added.

ispace halved its annual sales forecast for the fiscal year ending March 2024 to 3.1 billion yen ($20.8 million) due to the rescheduling, but its earnings forecast was upgraded to a net loss of 4.5 billion yen from 7.9 billion yen, because of extraordinary insurance income.

Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Group, a MS&AD unit, paid 3.7 billion yen last month to ispace for Hakuto-R Mission 1’s failure.

In April, ispace shares made a blistering debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange two weeks before the landing attempt, at one point rising to more than nine times its IPO price. The unsuccessful landing resulted in a steep sell-off, but the shares have since recovered, closing on Thursday at 1,401 yen.

(This story has been corrected to say that ispace upgraded fiscal 2023/24 net loss forecast to 4.5 billion yen, from 7.9 billion yen, in paragraph 8 )

(Reporting by Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Miral Fahmy)