Japan’s “Moon Sniper” mission lifted off on Thursday as Japan’s space program seeks to recover from a series of recent incidents, weeks after India’s..
Only the United States, Russia, China and, last month, India managed to land a probe on the Moon, with two failed Japanese missions – one public and one private.
Watched by 35,000 people online, the H-IIA rocket took off early Thursday from the southern island of Tanegashima with the lander on board, which is expected to land on the lunar surface in early 2024.
To cheers and applause from mission control, the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, and the XRISM space research satellite being developed with the US and European space agencies both parted ways shortly thereafter.
The launch had already been postponed three times due to bad weather.
The SLIM is nicknamed the “Moon Sniper” because it is designed to land within 100 yards of a specific target on the surface. This is well below the usual range of several kilometers.
“By creating the SLIM lander, humans will achieve a qualitative shift towards being able to land where they want and not just where it is easy to land,” Japanese space agency JAXA said ahead of the launch.
“Achieving this will make it possible to land on even more resource-poor planets than the Moon.”
Globally, “there are no previous instances of definite landings on celestial bodies with significant gravity such as the Moon,” the agency added.
XRISM will perform “high-resolution X-ray spectroscopic observations of the hot gas plasma wind blowing through galaxies in the universe,” according to JAXA.
These will make it possible to study “the fluxes of mass and energy, revealing the composition and evolution of celestial objects”.
The lander is equipped with a spherical probe developed with a toy company.
Slightly larger than a tennis ball, it can change shape to move on the lunar surface.
India landed a craft near the Moon’s south pole last month,for its low-cost space program.
Its success came days after a Russian probe crashed in the same area, and four years after a previous Indian attempt failed at the last moment.
India also launched a probe carrying scientific instruments on Saturday to observe the outermost layers of the Sun during a four-month journey.
Japan’s past attempts have also failed, including last year when it sent a lunar probe named Omotenashi as part of the US program..
The size of a backpack, Omotenashi would have been the smallest lunar lander in the world, but it was lost.
And in April, Japanese startup ispace failed in its ambitious bid to become the first private company to land on the Moon, losing communication with its spacecraft after what it described as a “hard landing”.
Japan has also had problems with its launch rockets, with failures after liftoff of the next-generation H3 in March and the normally reliable solid-fuel Epsilon last October.
In July, testing of an Epsilon S rocket, an upgraded version of the Epsilon, ended in an explosion 50 seconds after ignition.
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