Japan’s lunar mission will launch and land in four to six months

Dubbed the “lunar sniper”, Japan aims to land the SLIM within 100 meters of its target location on the lunar surface. By February, the $100 million expedition should have arrived at the moon.

The H-IIA rocket carrying the national space agency’s lunar lander is launched at the Tanegashima Space Center on Japan’s southwestern Tanegashima Island on Sept. 7, 2023.

After several weather-related delays, Japan’s Moon-lander mission called SLIM finally launched Thursday morning. A successful landing of the SLIM probe on the moon would make Japan only the fifth country in the world to do so. A spacecraft called SLIM, or Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon, is currently traveling to the moon over a period of four to six months. The SLIM spacecraft would be the tiniest and lightest to successfully touch down on the Moon.The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has extended its greetings to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for the successful launch.

Wishing the global space community another successful lunar endeavor,” ISRO said.

The H-IIA rocket that carried SLIM into space also carried the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), a satellite designed for astronomical observations. XRISM was separated from the rocket 14 minutes after launch and deployed to its intended orbit. XRISM will make high-resolution X-ray spectroscopic observations of the hot gaseous plasma wind that blows across galaxies, and its studies will focus on determining the mass and energy fluxes, composition and evolution of celestial objects. The SLIM spacecraft was detached from the rocket 47 minutes after liftoff and placed in Earth orbit, where it will perform orbit-raising maneuvers over the next few days just like Chandrayaan-3 in its initial phase.

It is the first attempt to land on the moon by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). An earlier attempt by a private Japanese company in May this year ended in failure. The SLIM spacecraft is quite small, weighing only about 200 kg. The Chandrayaan-3 lander module weighed around 1750 kg in contrast. The primary objective of SLIM is to show a precise landing within 100 meters of the target area. The goal of the mission is to show that it is feasible to set down on the moon “where we want, not just where it’s easy to land.”

JAXA said the “precision” landing technology is necessary to ensure the spacecraft is close enough to sites of scientific interest on the moon that the rover can reach. The chosen landing site for SLIM is near a small crater called Shioli in the equatorial region of the Moon. The ground around the landing location slopes up to about 15 degrees because it is close to the crater. As a result, the technique for landing safely on such a slope becomes crucial, according to JAXA.

Landings on such slanted surfaces will become more necessary in the future as science and exploration aims advance. “Specifically, for the SLIM-scale spacecraft, the ‘two-stage landing method’ has demonstrated excellent reliable landing results through simulation,” he said. “The main landing gear first touches the ground and then rotates forward to stabilize.”


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