A partnership between a century old Japanese watchmaker and a private space company is set to see technology originally developed for watches find its way onto the lunar surface as part of what is said to be the world’s first commercial Moon mission.
The partnership, which is between Citizen Watch and ispace, both of which are based in Japan, will see a proprietary material developed by the watchmaker used to coat a lunar lander and lunar rover, which are central to the company’s plans for a commercial Moon mission.
Beginning in 2021, ispace plans to launch several missions as part of its HAKUTO-R lunar exploration programme. This will initially see a soft lunar landing for the first mission, with a second mission, which set to include the use of a rover for surface exploration, planned for 2023.
In both cases, ispace’s vehicles will be carried as secondary payloads on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
How watch technology is being used on the first commercial Moon mission
Citizen Watch’s partnership with ispace may seem unorthodox, but lies in the watchmaker’s Super Titanium material, which is used to make high-end watches.
Super Titanium is manufactured using a proprietary technology known as Duratect, which combines a host of different treatment techniques to create an extremely hard finished surface. These include cold plasma, ion plating, gas hardening and duplex coating.
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The result is a material that while far lighter than stainless steel, is six times harder and highly durable.
Such properties make it extremely well suited to spacecraft, which is why it will be used to create parts for both the lander and rover.
“The application of Citizen’s titanium watch technology to HAKUTO-R’s lunar lander and rover provides a clear example of how industrial techniques used on Earth can provide viable solutions to spacecraft engineering,” said Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace.
“We will continue to actively work with our partner companies to challenge the conventional way of thinking about space development.”