Japan launched a lunar mission successfully on Thursday, becoming the fifth country to do so, just weeks after India.
The launch was made on the H2-A rocket, which is a small unmanned Japanese spacecraft launched at 8:42 a.m. local time from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan.
The spacecraft is scheduled to enter the moon’s orbit in three to four months and land early next year.
The rocket is carrying two space missions: a new X-ray telescope to help scientists better understand the origins of the universe, which separated at 8:56 a.m.,
It is also carrying a Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), a lightweight high-precision moon lander that will serve as the basis for future moon landing technology, which separated at 9:29 a.m.
“I was watching anxiously, but [the telescope] was separated successfully, to my great relief. We will have to continue watching carefully, but the first step was successfully done,” said Kyoko Matsushita, the project scientist for the telescope.
Japan’s Lunar Mission Explained
The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), also known as a “moon sniper” because of its ultra-precise landing technology, is the mission Lunar mission.
Japan intends to land SLIM within 328 feet (100 meters) of its intended position, which is substantially closer than the precision of traditional lunar landers, which is often several kilometers.
SLIM’s superior imaging technology is an essential component of Japan’s reaction to China’s space program.
Data obtained by SLIM will also be utilized for NASA’s Artemis project, a US-led effort to land astronauts on the moon’s surface and establish a long-term presence there.
“Pinpoint landing technology is being tried by some in the world, so the competition is going to be fierce. But as far as we know, SLIM will be the first in the world,” Shinichiro Sakai, JAXA’s project manager, told reporters in June.
SLIM is scheduled to enter lunar orbit in three to four months and is expected to land in four to six months on Shioli, a tiny crater on the moon’s near side.
According to scientists, the landing mission would explore the origins of the moon and test technology that will be vital to future lunar landing operations.
The X-ray telescope now heading to the moon is known as the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), and it was developed in cooperation with JAXA, NASA, and other organizations.
It’s a new generation of high-resolution photography that will aid researchers in their study of stars, galaxies, and black holes, as well as heated plasma, the substance that makes up the majority of the universe.
- JAXA, ‘Successful Launch of the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) and the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM)’, 7 September 2023, https://global.jaxa.jp/press/2023/09/20230907-1_e.html.