By Akihiro Asada
A small robotic lunar probe created at a small factory in Ota Ward, Tokyo, will travel across the surface of the Moon next year. A lunar landing module to be launched by a U.S. lunar exploration company will carry the probe. If the launch proceeds as planned, the probe will conduct Japan’s first lunar exploration.
Robot creator Shinichiro Nakajima launched Dymon Co., a space exploration company, eight years ago. Nakajima rents part of a factory belonging to Toshin Seisakusho, a metal processing company, to carry out the development and testing of the lunar probe.
The probe, named “Yaoki,” measures 15 centimeters in width and depth, and 10 centimeters in height. It weighs 600 grams. Nakajima worked to make the probe lightweight since transport costs to the Moon is said to be 100 million yen per kilogram.
Nakajima took videos of Yaoki and uploaded them to YouTube. He promoted his product to the U.S. space industry using social media. Astrobotic, a U.S. company participating in the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA)’s lunar cargo transport program, contacted Nakajima. Astrobotic plans to use United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket to launch a landing module to the Moon next year. The launch is expected to take place between July and September 2021. The Yaoki will be loaded onto the landing module. Dymon concluded a contract with Astrobotic on the transport of the Yaoki in fall 2019. (Abridged)