In Tokyo, Japan’s “Moon Sniper” mission took off on Thursday, marking a pivotal moment for the country’s space program. This launch comes as Japan seeks to recover from a series of recent setbacks, and it follows India’s historic lunar achievement just weeks ago.
Until now, only the United States, Russia, China, and, as of last month, India have managed to successfully land a probe on the Moon. Japan, on the other hand, had encountered two unsuccessful lunar missions, one conducted publicly and the other privately.
With an online audience of 35,000 spectators, the H-IIA rocket embarked on its journey early on Thursday from Tanegashima, a southern island. It carried the lander, which is anticipated to make a lunar surface touchdown in early 2024.
Amid cheers and applause at mission control, both the “SLIM” Moon probe and the XRISM space research satellite, developed in collaboration with the US and European space agencies, separated shortly afterward. This launch had been delayed three times due to bad weather.
The XRISM satellite is set to conduct “high-resolution” X-ray observations of hot gas plasma winds throughout the universe. It will help us understand the movement of mass and energy, uncovering the composition and evolution of celestial objects.
The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), affectionately known as the “Moon Sniper,” has a remarkable precision, aiming to land within 100 meters of a specific target on the lunar surface. This is a significant improvement over the usual range of several kilometers.
The Japanese space agency JAXA expressed their goals, stating, “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.” This achievement opens up possibilities for landing on planets even more resource-scarce than the Moon, as no previous instances of pinpoint landing on celestial bodies with significant gravity have been recorded globally.
Additionally, the SLIM lander features a spherical probe developed in collaboration with a toy company. Slightly larger than a tennis ball, it can adapt its shape to move effectively on the lunar surface.
Last month, India achieved a historic triumph by landing a craft near the Moon’s south pole through its low-cost space program. However, this success followed a Russian probe’s crash in the same region and a previous Indian attempt’s failure four years prior.
Japan has faced its share of challenges in past space endeavors, including the loss of the lunar probe Omotenashi last year, a failed attempt by Japanese startup ispace to land on the Moon in April, and issues with its launch rockets in recent months. These setbacks underscore the complexity and risks involved in space exploration.