Man is going back to the moon. Not for silly rock samples, or to hit a golf ball or plant a flag. And not because someone forgot something on an earlier visit.
Japanese companies are keen on developing a lunar economy and are consequently backing a local startup’s mission to land on the moon by 2020. To help them with this 2020 vision, Tokyo-based Ispace, Inc. claims it has already raised the equivalent of $90 million from some of Japan’s biggest businesses, including Japan Airlines and Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings, Inc. Government-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan and the Development Bank of Japan have also invested in the endeavor. The plan is to send a spacecraft into lunar orbit in 2019 and then land one about a year later.
The trend in space development is for private companies to play an ever-larger role, as evidenced by Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation and the asteroid mining firm Planetary Resources, Inc. Ispace admits that a thriving lunar economy is decades away, but says it is realistic to believe there could be 1,000 people living on the moon by 2040, with some 10,000 people visiting yearly. This would guarantee at least two or three viable Starbucks locations.
Ispace says the initial business opportunity is in marketing, and, as such, it will be placing corporate logos on its spacecraft and rovers. It also plans to deliver images to the moon to be used in advertising. As Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive officer of Ispace, stated at a press event in Tokyo recently: “Human beings aren’t heading to the stars to become poor. That’s why it’s crucial to create an economy in outer space.”
Ispace says that a successful landing would allow the company to offer what it calls a “projection mapping service.” It would erect billboards on the moon’s surface that would allow corporations to show off their logos with Earth in the background, a possibility that Ispace officials believe will send many businesses over the moon. Or at least to it.
President Trump also recently made it clear that he wants the U.S. to go back to the moon in the near future, largely to build a foundation to someday land Americans on Mars.
I can foresee a time when weekly shuttles take people to the moon to have their pictures taken with the billboard, Earth in the background. A group of people would stand at the foot of the billboard, for example, looking up at the Kraft Foods ad as a lunar guide instructs them to “Say cheese,” our home planet as a backdrop.
Some people promise others the moon. Some people reach for it.
If these companies can pull this off, they’ll have hung the moon.