In a monumental leap towards lunar exploration, Japan has propelled its lunar spacecraft, affectionately known as the “moon sniper,” into space atop a homegrown H-IIA rocket. This achievement propels Japan into the illustrious group of nations preparing to land on the moon, positioning it as the fifth country with plans to accomplish this feat in the coming year. Spearheaded by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), this daring mission introduces the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) with the audacious goal of precisely positioning it within a remarkable 100-meter radius of its intended lunar landing site. The mission’s estimated arrival on the lunar surface is anticipated for February.
This launch follows closely on the heels of India’s historic achievement as the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon with its Chandrayaan-3 mission, focusing on the uncharted lunar south pole. Japan’s previous lunar landing attempts encountered challenges in the past year, with JAXA experiencing communication loss with the OMOTENASHI lander, leading to the cancellation of a planned lunar landing in November. Furthermore, the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, developed by a Japanese startup called ispace, encountered a crash in April during its lunar descent.
In addition to SLIM, the H-IIA rocket is carrying the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite, a collaborative venture involving JAXA, NASA, and the European Space Agency.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, responsible for the rocket’s manufacture and launch operations, has played a pivotal role in this mission. This launch marks the 47th H-IIA rocket launched by Japan since 2001, achieving a remarkable success rate of nearly 98%. JAXA temporarily halted the launch of the H-IIA carrying SLIM for several months to investigate the issues stemming from the failure of its new medium-lift H3 rocket during its inaugural launch in March.
Japan has encountered setbacks in its recent space missions, including the launch failure of the Epsilon small rocket in October 2022, followed by an engine explosion during a test in July. Nonetheless, the nation remains steadfast in its commitment to sending astronauts to the moon in the late 2020s.
- JAXA Founded: 1 October 2003
- JAXA President: Yamakawa Hiroshi
- JAXA Headquarters: Chōfu, Tokyo, Japan