Japan Launching “Moon Sniper” for Lunar Exploration

Japan has achieved a significant milestone in lunar exploration by successfully launching its lunar spacecraft, dubbed the “moon sniper,” aboard a domestically developed H-IIA rocket. This achievement sets Japan on course to join an exclusive group of nations aiming to land on the moon, positioning itself as the fifth country to achieve this remarkable feat by early next year.

Japan’s Lunar Exploration Takes Off

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) reported that the rocket’s liftoff from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan went as planned, successfully deploying the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM). Japan’s ambitious goal for SLIM is to achieve a precise landing within just 100 meters of the designated lunar target site. This $100-million lunar mission is expected to reach the moon’s surface by February, marking a significant milestone in Japan’s lunar exploration journey.

Overcoming Lunar Challenges: Moon Sniper

This achievement follows India’s recent success as the fourth nation to land a spacecraft on the moon through its Chandrayaan-3 mission to the uncharted lunar south pole. Japan’s path to lunar landing, however, has not been without its challenges. The country faced two failed lunar landing attempts in the past year.

The OMOTENASHI lander lost communication, leading to the cancellation of a landing attempt in November. Subsequently, the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, developed by the Japanese startup ispace, encountered a mishap in April as it attempted to descend to the lunar surface. In addition to SLIM, the H-IIA rocket carried the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite, a collaborative effort involving JAXA, NASA, and the European Space Agency.

The H-IIA Rocket: A Record of Success

The H-IIA rocket, manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and operated for the launch, marked Japan’s 47th launch of this rocket type since 2001, boasting an impressive success rate of nearly 98%. Notably, JAXA had temporarily halted the launch of the H-IIA rocket carrying SLIM while investigating the failure of its new medium-lift H3 rocket during its debut in March.

Despite facing challenges, including the launch failure of the Epsilon small rocket in October 2022 and an engine explosion during a test in July, Japan remains steadfast in its pursuit of space exploration. The nation is committed to sending astronauts to the moon in the late 2020s, signaling a new era in its contributions to lunar exploration.


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