Japan launched a lunar exploration spacecraft on Thursday aboard a homegrown H-IIA rocket, hoping to become the world’s fifth country to land on the moon early next year.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said the rocket took off from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan as planned and successfully released the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM). Unfavourable weather led to three postponements in a week last month.
Dubbed the “moon sniper”, Japan aims to land SLIM within 100 metres of its target site on the lunar surface. The $100-million mission is expected to start the landing by February after a long, fuel-efficient approach trajectory. “The big objective of SLIM is to prove the high-accuracy landing … to achieve ‘landing where we want’ on the lunar surface, rather than ‘landing where we can’,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference. Hours after launch on Thursday, JAXA said it picked up signals from SLIM showing it was operating normally.
The launch comes two weeks after India became the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon with its Chandrayaan-3 mission to the unexplored lunar south pole. Around the same time, Russia’s Luna-25 lander crashed while approaching the moon. Two earlier lunar landing attempts by Japan failed in the last year. JAXA lost contact with the OMOTENASHI lander and scrubbed an attempted landing in November. The Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, made by Japanese startup ispace (9348.T), crashed in April as it attempted to descend to the lunar surface.—Reuters