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Space startup raises $90 million to start moon ads by 2020

Baku, December 14, AZERTAC

Japanese companies are planning to kick-start the lunar economy by backing a local startup’s mission to land on the moon by 2020, according to Bloomberg.

Tokyo-based Ispace Inc. said it raised 10.2 billion yen ($90 million) from some of the country’s biggest businesses, including Japan Airlines Co. and television network Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings Inc. The funds will be used to send a spacecraft into lunar orbit by 2019, and then land one a year later.

Private companies are playing a bigger role in space development, from Elon Musk’s rocket launcher Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and asteroid miner Planetary Resources Inc., seeking to deliver humanity to the cosmos while securing a return for their shareholders. Ispace says a thriving lunar economy is still decades away, but it is putting profits and corporate projects at the heart of its missions in the coming years.

“Human beings aren’t heading to the stars to become poor,” Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive officer of Ispace, said at a press event in Tokyo. “That’s why it’s crucial to create an economy in outer space.”

Musk voiced support for the latest U.S. effort to return to the moon. “It is high time that humanity went beyond Earth. Should have a moon base by now,” he wrote on Twitter.

Not all of Ispace’s investors are corporations. Government-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan is the leading investor in the round with 3.5 billion yen, while Development Bank of Japan also invested an undisclosed amount.

Ispace says the initial business opportunity is mostly in marketing, including slapping corporate logos on its spacecrafts and rovers, and delivering images to be used in advertising. A successful landing will also let the company offer what it calls a "projection mapping service" -- a small billboard on the moon’s surface. The startup says there will be demand from corporations looking to show off their logos with Earth in the background.

From 2021, Hakamada plans to land exploration vehicles that will search for water. That in turn can be turned into hydrogen fuel and ultimately perhaps support a lunar settlement.

Ispace estimates there are billions of tons of water on the moon, but hard evidence is lacking. In 2009, NASA researchers found molecules associated with water. This year, a study used satellite data to estimate that large amounts of water likely exist under the surface.

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