Photo/Illutration An artist’s rendering of a lunar lander on the moon’s surface (Provided by ispace Inc.)

Fifty years after the end of the Apollo program, a Japanese space development start-up firm is poised to make history again, as part of the first lunar exploration program led by a private company.

Ispace Inc. announced on Jan. 25 that its unmanned lunar lander will be launched by the end of this year from the United States. It will carry lunar probes developed separately by a United Arab Emirates space center and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

“We can finally launch the lunar lander this year,” said Takeshi Hakamada, founder and CEO of ispace, which is working on the Hakuto-R lunar exploration program. “We faced some challenges, but the mission is currently going smoothly.”

Under the mission, the lunar lander will land on the moon several months after launch and release the lunar probes onto the surface.

Ispace said the lunar lander is in the final assembly stage in Germany. The lander will be tested to see if it is durable enough to operate in space before being transported to Florida for launch.

“It’ll be the world’s first moon landing by a private company,” former Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mori said during a face-to-face discussion with Hakamada. “I wish you a successful landing.”

Ispace also plans to launch a lunar rover to explore the moon's surface and collect data, which is currently under development in its lunar exploration program. But the company said it will push back the second launch carrying the rover by a year to 2024.