The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has successfully launched a lunar exploration craft into space aboard a domestically produced rocket, with the goal of reaching the Moon by February of next year. On Thursday, an H-IIA rocket took off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center, releasing the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) for its several-month journey to the lunar surface. Despite three previous postponements due to poor weather conditions, JAXA confirmed that the rocket flew as planned during the recent launch.
JAXA has developed a mission plan that entails making a pinpoint landing with the SLIM lander, aiming to come within 100 meters of the target site. Due to this precision, the lander has earned the nickname “Moon sniper.” The agency emphasized that this mission will provide valuable data and experience for future space exploration endeavors, including landings on resource-scarce planets.
In a mission description, JAXA stated, “By creating the SLIM lander, humans will make a qualitative shift towards being able to land where we want and not just where it is easy to land, as had been the case before.” If all goes according to plan, the SLIM lander will follow a long, fuel-efficient trajectory before touching down inside the Shioli impact crater, which is a nearly 1,000-foot wide basin located on the near side of the Moon. Equipped with various sensors and probes, the craft will monitor the condition of the landing site.
Along with the SLIM lander, the same H-IIA rocket also carried the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), a space telescope developed jointly by JAXA, NASA, and the European Space Agency. Scientists hope that this instrument will contribute to significant breakthroughs in X-ray astronomy, potentially revealing new insights into the early universe’s structure, galaxy formation, and the nature of dark matter, among other topics.
This successful launch comes after Japan’s two previous failed lunar landing attempts, with JAXA losing contact with one craft last November and another crashing onto the Moon in April. It also follows India’s successful mission to the lunar surface in late August, making India the fourth country to ever achieve a landing. Additionally, Russia’s Luna-25 mission experienced an unsuccessful landing due to a technical glitch with the craft’s engine, although Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, expressed optimism for future lunar missions.
JAXA’s latest launch symbolizes a significant step forward for lunar exploration and highlights Japan’s dedication to advancing space missions. With the successful deployment of the SLIM lander and the XRISM telescope, JAXA and its international collaborators are poised to make exciting discoveries and gain valuable knowledge for future space exploration endeavors. As the world continues to explore and study the Moon, scientists and space agencies are hopeful for further advancements in our understanding of the universe and its origins.