The Moon Race Continues: Japan Launches Rocket with Lunar Lander
On September 7th at 08:42 local time, Japan successfully launched the H-IIA rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center as part of a global lunar exploration program, according to ABC News. The launch had been delayed three times due to adverse weather conditions and was originally scheduled for late August.
The rocket will carry the first Japanese lunar lander module, known as SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon), developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Similar to a transformer toy, the lander module can change shape and move across the lunar surface, a feature inspired by a toy manufacturing company's involvement in its development.
The SLIM lander also goes by another name – Moon Sniper. This is because it is planned to touch down within 100 meters of the designated point near the Sioli crater on the far side of the Moon, whereas other descent modules land several kilometers away from their targets.
"By creating the SLIM lander, humanity has achieved a significant leap in precision landings on celestial bodies, allowing us to land where we want, not just where it's convenient," stated JAXA before the launch. "There have been no instances anywhere in the world of such accurate landings on celestial objects with such significant gravitational forces, as on the Moon."
Moon Sniper is expected to enter lunar orbit within four months, spending a month circling the Moon before attempting a landing in February 2024.
This $100 million mission is aimed at demonstrating Tokyo's ability to land a lightweight and cost-effective spacecraft on the Moon. If the descent module successfully lands, Japan will join the esteemed "lunar club," which includes the United States, China, and more recently, India.
The landing of the module on the lunar surface is anticipated within 4-6 months from the launch date. During the mission, the probe will analyze the composition of lunar mantle rock, a relatively unexplored area, using a rover and a multispectral camera.
In addition to the SLIM lander, the rocket has also delivered the XRISM research satellite into Earth's orbit, a collaborative project between Japan, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA). Equipped with a highly sensitive instrument for spectroscopic observations of hot plasma flows in the universe, the satellite detached from the rocket early in the mission and has already commenced its own tasks, such as capturing X-rays emitted by the universe's largest objects and phenomena, including black holes and supernova explosions.