European Space Agency (ESA) has collaborated with ispace to offer communication services between the lunar spacecraft developed by ispace and ESA’s teams on Earth throughout the mission. Ispace will launch HAKUTO Mission 1 and will use the agency’s global network of tracking stations to transmit commands to the spacecraft and receive scientific data and status information from Mission 1 and the experiments carried out on the Moon.
Mission 1 is the first mission of the HAKUTO-R lunar exploration program from the company ispace, based in Tokyo, Japan, with offices in Luxembourg and the US. It will be launched into a low-energy transfer orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to the Moon.
The journey will take three to five months and see the spacecraft venture out to deep space and back again. Once on the Moon, it will conduct a host of experiments in cooperation with various commercial and agency entities on Earth.
Following launch and separation, the spacecraft will be operated from the HAKUTO-R Mission Control Center in central Tokyo, Japan. The Center will monitor the lunar lander’s vital signs – its attitude, temperature, and other conditions – send commands to the spacecraft and receive the data gathered by the lander’s various instruments and experiments during transit to the Moon and during their time on the lunar surface.
The process of acquiring commands to the spacecraft and its experimental data back to Earth from deep space and eventually from the Moon’s surface will be conducted by ESA.
ESA's tracking station network – Estrack – is a global system of ground stations providing links between satellites across the Solar System and ESA’s ESOC mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany. Our tracking stations enable satellite operators to communicate with their spacecraft, transmit commands and receive scientific data and spacecraft status information.
The lunar lander will be supported by ESA’s largest deep space antennas – three 35-meter dishes located in New Norcia, Western Australia, Cebreros, Spain, and Malargüe, Argentina. Two smaller ESA antennas located in Kourou, French Guiana, and New Norcia will also provide support, as will the commercial Goonhilly Earth Station in the UK, as part of the ‘Estrack extended network’.
ESA’s first contact with the lander after launch – known as ‘acquisition of signal’ – will take place over the New Norcia station in Australia. This crucial moment allows ispace to check that the lander is healthy, survived the rigors of launch, and is on the right path.
The Estrack and Goonhilly stations will then follow the lander as it ventures out into deep space and back again on a sweeping trajectory designed to reduce the amount of fuel the spacecraft needs to carry.
It will reach as far as 1.5 million km from Earth at its farthest point – roughly four times the distance between Earth and the Moon. The spacecraft will enter lunar orbit for around one month before the whole craft descends to perform lunar landing.
Surface operations will last for approximately two weeks, with the landing timed as close to the lunar dawn at the landing site as possible, in order to maximize mission time.
ESA’s stations will again be on hand to receive vital data during the descent and confirm a successful landing. During these two weeks, science data will stream down from the Moon to the experiment teams on Earth via ESA’s antennas.
The support provided to ispace, via its Luxembourg office (ispace EUROPE), where the company operates its secondary mission control center, will be the first time that ESA has provided the sole ground station support for a commercial space mission and the first time that its ground stations have supported a commercial Moon landing.
ESA is now constructing a fourth 35 m-diameter antenna in order to meet the rising demand for communication bandwidth as the Agency prepares and launches a new generation of its own deep-space and space safety missions.
Click here to learn more about ESA's ground station support and space operations.