• Bloomberg


Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. signed its second Japanese customer in as many weeks — but the payload this time will be lunar rovers rather than a group of space tourists.

Tokyo-based lunar-exploration startup Ispace has signed up for launches on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in 2020 and 2021. The first will carry a lunar lander into orbit around the moon, and the second aims to put one on the moon’s surface so it can deploy a pair of rovers, Ispace said Wednesday.

“We share the vision with SpaceX of enabling humans to live in space, so we’re very glad they will join us in this first step of our journey,” Ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement.

The deal comes a little more than a week after Musk revealed that the billionaire founder of Japanese online retailer Start Today Co., Yusaku Maezawa, had signed up to be the first paying passenger to travel around the moon on a SpaceX rocket in 2023. The 42-year-old entrepreneur, whose net worth is about $2.3 billion, plans to invite as many as eight artists to join him. Musk hasn’t ruled out participating in the trip himself.

Sixteen successful missions for SpaceX are a bright spot in an otherwise tumultuous year for Musk, who also heads electric-carmaker Tesla Inc.

Ispace envisions business opportunities including ferrying cargo to the moon, exploring for water, and eventually facilitating human settlement. Last year, it raised close to $95 million from investors including Suzuki Motor Corp. and telecom giant KDDI Corp. to fund its maiden lunar launches.

The startup also competed in a Google-sponsored race to the moon, which the U.S. internet giant called off this year after it became clear no private explorer would complete the trip by its deadline. Another alumnus of the Google lunar competition, SpaceIL — which is backed by the Israel Space Agency and billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson — plans to hitch a ride on one of Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets in December.

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