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SpaceX conducted a rare lunar launch early this morning after the Japanese company ispace Inc.’s lunar lander launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The launch was SpaceX’s second lunar launch of the year and the first for a lunar lander. It made the company one of the first US companies to launch a lunar lander after rival United Launch Alliance (ULA) did not launch a Vulcan rocket with Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Peregrine. The ipace Hakuto-R lander launched on a Falcon 9 rocket at 2:38 a.m. ET, and the first stage successfully separated from the second stage and landed on Earth shortly after.
SpaceX makes another launch to the moon in 2022 as all eyes are on the spacecraft
Today’s launch came within days of the Falcon 9 launching 40 satellites for British company OneWeb on Thursday – with the launch itself providing some of the best visuals of the rocket this year. Given its time, the Falcon 9 lifted off into the sunset, and the amazing coverage from the ground-tracking camera showed in detail the various stages of launch, such as stage separation, backburn boost, blowback control, firing, and another ground landing.
The Hakuo-R was launched at night, and the best views of the event are the Falcon 9’s first-stage thrust back burner. After separating from the second stage, the rocket immediately changes direction and fires its engines to ensure it doesn’t crash into the second stage. This was one of the first mistakes SpaceX encountered with a rocket in its history, as its third launch of the Falcon 1 rocket saw the first and second stages collide in mid-air.
Prepare for today’s launch, which took place at night, creating a gorgeous column of flames that lit up the frame and contrasted sharply with the dark sky in the background. This was very different from the previous launch because the ambient light also made the rocket visible.
The launch makes SpaceX one of the few companies in the industry to launch a lunar payload this year and the only company to do so twice. Its previous lunar mission was for the Korean Space Agency, which launched a spacecraft around the moon in August. In addition, RocketLab is joining SpaceX in conducting a lunar mission this year, with NASA’s final CAPSTONE satellite launched in June. CAPSTONE is part of NASA’s Artemis program, which will enable the space agency to study various orbits of the planned Gateway space station. This space station will serve as a docking point for future astronauts, to which they will travel on NASA’s Orion spacecraft and then transfer to the SpaceX starship to land on the lunar surface.
Starship is due to conduct its orbital test flight soon, and looking at things so far, that crucial test will take place next year. The rocket will be one of the largest in the world, and will also carry a private crew into lunar orbit as part of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa’s efforts to spark creativity on Earth. SpaceX has ramped up the pace of Starship development recently, as it began testing multiple engines for full periods in a slow buildup of a steady fire for the whole system.
Today’s landing marks the 155th time that SpaceX has landed a rocket booster, and the company will also reuse its gravity. The payload separated from the second stage about an hour after liftoff, and a NASA “flashlight” separated shortly thereafter.