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Delivering to the moon

Japanese startup aims for the stars with a delivery service to the moon

World superpowers are falling over themselves to be the top dog in the race for dominance of the space sector. The US, Russia and China are constantly duking it out so they can be the first one to announce the latest development or astronomical milestone.

Private companies and their billionaire CEOS are also supercharging this trend. Richard Branson has never shied away from his solar intentions with Virgin Galactic, but he’s now been joined by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX  which have both become serious astro-contenders – with the latter enjoying some seriously nice contracts with NASA of late. Not only is it worth it as a revenue stream , but it’s also great for their publicity – so much so that it’s surprising Kanye West hasn’t started his own space project for this reason alone.

Amid this sphere of international influence, one Japanese startup has entered the fray to position itself as an integral player among these companies. Tokyo-based ispace Inc was founded in 2010 to construct a sustainable Earth and Moon ecosystem implementing space resources ranging from: sale and survey of Moon surface data; high frequency lunar transport; payload development for lunar probiting and landing. Essentially, the company is looking to provide logistical support and commercial delivery options for the companies, government and countries who require it.

Photo: Bill Jelen

High ambitions

iSpace’s ambition has gone so successfully that it’s looking forward to take-off any day now, supplying a moon lander that will piggyback on board a Falcon 9 rocket developed by SpaceX. The project has been backed by NASA, in the hope that the lander will collect moon dust samples from the lunar surface. If successful it will be the first Japanese company to land on the moon. 

Confidence in the company is high with Japanese investors raising $46 million to bankroll these future space missions. This Series C funding round was led by the Incubate Fund, which featured SoftBank’s among its six participants, and signposts a wider trend which is beneficial for startups all over the world.

The area of space and lunar exploration has become an increasingly important area for investing and funding for startups, with Forbes announcing that the 10,000 companies currently developing private space technology around the world could have a combined value of more than $4 trillion.

For ispace Inc, it’s a chance not only to act as a delivery firm for the bigger space companies, but also increase geopolitical sway for Japan, too.