Japan's ispace on track for late April touchdown attempt of private moon lander

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Japanese space startup ispace's lunar lander reached its farthest distance from Earth and, despite minor technical hitches during the moonshot, is on track for a lunar landing attempt in late April, company executives said Monday.

The privately built Hakuto-R Mission 1 lunar lander, which launched from Florida in December, had encountered "several" mission hiccups during its trek toward the moon, but many of them were fixable during flight and none jeopardized the craft's anticipated landing in late April, ispace's chief executive, Takeshi Hakamada, told reporters.

The M1 lander will mark the first lunar landing by a private company, if successful. Only the governments of the United States, Russia and China have nailed such a feat, with landing attempts by India and a private Israeli company ending in failure in recent years.

The M1 lander is expected to deploy a two-wheeled, baseball-sized rover from Japan's JAXA space agency and a four-wheeled Rashid rover made by the United Arab Emirates.

The Tokyo, Japan-based company celebrated a mission milestone in January when the M1 lander completed a full month of stable deep-space flight operations. On Jan. 20, the spacecraft reached its farthest point from Earth some 8.5 million miles away (1.375 million km).

Among the mission hiccups the spacecraft encountered were "brief" unexpected sensor issues within its guidance, navigation and control system, the company said in a statement.

The company said mission managers tweaked parameters to fix the system, which is the onboard computer that will help position the lander for its surface landing.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Chris Reese and Himani Sarkar)