Japanese lunar lander start-up ispace to open US office in Denver

Kursten O’Neill (left), U.S. lander program director, and Kyle Acierno, ispace U.S. CEO.


Japanese lunar exploration start-up ispace on Monday announced plans to expand operations in the United States, saying it is establishing an office in Denver, Colorado after working with the Department of Commerce.

“In order to be competitive in [the space] industry, having the business in the United States is a big part,” ispace CEO Takeshi Hakamada told CNBC.

The company received approval to establish a U.S. office through the Commerce Department’s SelectUSA program, which assists with foreign direct investments. To date ispace has raised about $125 million, with investors including the Development Bank of Japan, Suzuki Motor and Japan Airlines. The company currently plans to launch its first lunar lander mission in 2022, and deploy a rover on the Moon in 2023 – with both missions scheduled to launch on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.

The company also specified that it hopes the expansion in the U.S. will help it partner with NASA on lunar exploration objectives. So far, ispace is partnered with Massachusetts-based Draper as a part of the firm’s team competing for contracts under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

Kyle Acierno, recently appointed as the U.S. CEO of ispace, told CNBC that the company will look to quickly hire in the Denver area and build up its facilities.

“There were a variety of factors for us, but one of the things that stood out was the accessibility of engineers. There’s a lot engineering talent here, and it’s particularly important since we’re looking to hire hardware people because we’re going to build this larger lunar lander and we want to staff up quickly,” Acierno said.

In addition to Acierno, ispace brought on SpaceX launch operations strategy manager Kursten O’Neill as the company’s U.S. lander program director, where she will lead its development of a larger next-generation design of ispace’s lunar lander. O’Neill spent more than seven years at SpaceX, focused primarily on development and improvements to its Falcon 9 series of rockets.

The company currently has more than 100 employees, with ispace staff in offices in Japan and Europe.

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