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The Japanese Hakuto will launch a rover to the moon on top of the Indian team's lander in the Google Lunar X Prize competition

Team Hakuto, a Japanese team competing in the Lunar X Prize competition, announced on December 20 that they had signed an agreement to launch their vehicle on another competitor's lander after their original partner withdrew from the competition.

The lander developed by the Indian TeamIndus group, on which the Hakuto rover will reach the moon. Source: TeamIndus.
The lander developed by the Indian TeamIndus group, on which the Hakuto rover will reach the moon. Source: TeamIndus.

The Hakuto team said that it signed with the Indian team TeamIndus to fly the vehicle to the moon on top of the Indian team's lander. The agreement was approved by the X-Frise Fund. The two groups did not specify the financial terms of the agreement.

The teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize are supposed to land a lander on the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video and other data. The deadline to sign a launch agreement and receive approval from the organizers was at the end of 2016. The teams remaining in the competition must launch their spacecraft by the end of 2017.

TeamIndus announced on December 1 that it had signed an agreement with the Indian Space Research Organization (Indian Space Agency) to launch on a polar orbiter in December 2017. In the same announcement, they also said that they were in the "final stages" of signing with another team for a joint launch.

"We are proud to confirm the Hakuto launch agreement and happy to see two Google Lunar X Prize teams collaborating on this mission to the moon," said Chanda Gonzalez-Maurer, senior director of the competition at the X Prize Foundation, in a statement. "The purpose of this award was, in part, to encourage collaboration in the private sector and this is a great example of teams coming together in the next giant leap in space exploration."

The Hakuto team's previous plan was to fly to the moon with another team, Astrobotic, under an agreement announced in February 2015. However, Astrobotic announced that it was withdrawing from the competition but would continue to develop its lunar lander for a commercial mission planned for 2019.

In an article published in the December 19 issue of SpaceNews magazine, Astrobotics CEO John Thornton said the company felt it would be unwise to try to rush the development of its spacecraft for a 2017 launch and that this jeopardizes the company's overall development.

The rover developed by Hakoto. Source: Company website.
The rover developed by Hakoto. Source: Company website.

"We did not take this decision lightly. But when there is a contradiction between the requirements of the X Prize competition and the requirements of our clients, we must be faithful to our customer first principles", Tornaton wrote and added: "We believe it is more important to fully focus on performance for our clients than to chase unrealistic deadlines for prizes".

Astrobotic tweeted on December 20 that its agreement with Team Hakuto remains in effect, allowing the Japanese team to fly a separate vehicle on an Astrobotic mission in 2019 in addition to the vehicle it will launch with TeamIndus in late 2017.

The Hakuto team is a project of ispace Inc., a Japanese company with long-term plans to develop what it calls a "high-frequency shuttle service" to the moon and extract resources there. On December 16, the company announced a memorandum of understanding with the Japanese Space Agency regarding joint work on plans to develop resources on the moon, and dealing with technical, economic and policy issues.

"The development of resources in space is attracting a lot of attention around the world," said Takashi Hamada, the founder and CEO of ispace, in a December 16 announcement announcing the memorandum of understanding. "We think it is important to actively participate in setting the rules and commercialization and also be globally competitive from a technological point of view through our Hakuto project."

Team Hakoto is the fifth team among the 15 teams remaining in the Google Lunar X Prize that has a confirmed launch contract, allowing it to remain in the competition. SpaceIL and Moon Express announced confirmed launch contracts in 2015, followed by Synergy Moon in August and TeamIndus on December 1. The PT Scientists team announced on November 29 that it has a launch contract with Spaceflight Industries, which will obtain a joint launch opportunity for it, but the agreement has not yet been approved by the X-Frise Foundation. One of the remaining teams, Angelicvm from Chile, planned to fly their vehicle on an Astrobotics lander.

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