A Japanese startup aiming to be the first private company in the world to reach the Moon launched a lunar lander Sunday aboard a rocket from a U.S. space station in Florida.

Ispace Inc.'s self-developed lander, part of its Hakuto-R exploration program, is scheduled to touch down on the Moon around late April next year, if all goes smoothly.

Screenshot from Hakuto-R's YouTube account shows a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Ispace Inc.'s lunar lander taking off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Dec. 11, 2022. (Kyodo)

The first stage of the program, named after the white rabbit that, according to Japanese folklore, lives on the Moon, also aims to bring other payloads to the Earth's only natural satellite. They include a small transformable robot, chiefly developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and toy company Tomy Co., and a United Arab Emirates rover.

In the long term, Ispace, set up in 2010, seeks to develop technologies for lunar resources and establishing low-cost transportation services between Earth and the Moon.

The startup's lander, measuring about 2.3 meters high and 2.6 meters wide, left from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, from which it will eventually separate and then aim for a point about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.

To carry less fuel and bring more cargo, it will take a longer energy-efficient route before entering the Moon's orbit.

As part of its plans to test its descending technology, the startup from its Tokyo command center will maneuver the spacecraft to touch down softly on an area called the Atlas crater in the northern hemisphere of the Moon.

Following the successful liftoff, Takeshi Hakamada, CEO and founder of Ispace, and others who gathered in Tokyo to watch the footage roared in applause.

"It was a very beautiful launch," Hakamada said.

Only the former Soviet Union, the United States and more recently China have put spacecraft on the lunar surface, but Ispace's attempt would be the first-ever by a private company.

The lander includes an engine for lunar landing, solar panels, and cameras created by the company that are intended to capture and send images from the Moon's surface.

Also onboard the lander is the transformable ball-shaped robot, which has a diameter of about 8 centimeters and weighs around 250 grams. This will be used to study how movement is affected by the regolith loose material that covers the Moon's surface.

The results are intended to lead to the development of manned lunar rovers that do not require the users to wear a spacesuit.

Japan has still to achieve a lunar touchdown, and Ispace's launch comes just weeks after the space agency, known also as JAXA, said it had given up on landing its Omotenashi on the Moon after a breakdown in communications meant it missed its window to enter orbit.

Ispace, with just over 200 employees, plans a second lunar landing in 2024. It is one of the companies selected by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration to gather samples from the Moon's surface as part of NASA's lunar exploration program.

Photo taken in Tokyo on Dec. 11, 2022, shows a mockup of a lunar lander developed by Tokyo-based startup ispace Inc. The lunar lander was successfully detached from a SpaceX rocket after its launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station the same day. The technology startup would be the first private company in the world to reach the Moon if the lander arrives as scheduled around late April next year. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

People watch in Tokyo the launch of a SpaceX rocket carrying ispace Inc.'s self-developed lunar lander from Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Dec. 11, 2022. The Tokyo-based space technology startup would be the first private firm in the world to reach the Moon as the lander is scheduled to land on the Moon around late April next year if all goes smoothly. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo