In a groundbreaking moment, Japan’s space agency, JAXA, launched its highly anticipated lunar mission on the morning of September 7th. The H2-A rocket, carrying the revolutionary SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) lander, took off from the Tanegashima Space Center at 8:42 a.m. local time. This ambitious mission is set to reach the Moon’s orbit in three to four months and is scheduled for a precise landing in January of the following year.
Originally slated for launch on August 26th, the mission faced two postponements due to unfavorable weather conditions, highlighting the meticulous planning and dedication of Japan’s aerospace experts.
The significance of this mission lies in its endeavor to achieve a pinpoint lunar landing, an uncharted territory for Japan. Earlier in May, a private Japanese company made an unsuccessful lunar landing attempt, underscoring the difficulty of this feat.
This mission is a dual-purpose endeavor, with the H2-A rocket carrying not one, but two space missions. Firstly, it features a groundbreaking X-ray telescope, showcasing Japan’s commitment to lunar exploration. Secondly, it carries a lightweight, high-precision spectroscopy Moon lander that will serve as a foundation for future lunar landing technology. The telescope successfully separated from the rocket at 8:56 a.m., with the lander expected to follow suit at 9:29 a.m.
The world’s eyes are now fixated on Japan’s SLIM lander, especially following India’s successful Chandrayaan 3 mission. It’s widely believed that SLIM boasts the most advanced landing technology to date, ensuring it lands precisely at its intended target on the Moon’s South Pole.
SLIM stands for ‘Smart Lander for Investigating Moon,’ a name chosen for its promise of superior accuracy compared to previous lunar missions. Pinpoint landing is crucial for moon missions, and SLIM is expected to fulfill this objective with unparalleled precision.
Landing on the Moon presents unique challenges due to its significantly lower gravity compared to Earth. However, advancements in telescopic technology have made this task more manageable. Scientists now have access to high-definition images and essential landing slot information before any mission, which is particularly vital for missions to the Moon’s enigmatic South Pole, where India’s Chandrayaan previously landed.
The primary benefit of pinpoint landing lies in its pre-defined target location, enabling precise mission planning. Detailed information about the landing site informs the lander’s design and post-landing rover movements. The objective is to gather accurate data about the presence of water and other elements in the designated area.
If SLIM accomplishes its mission successfully, it will focus on a 100-meter radius around its landing site. With a weight of 200 kg, a length of 2.4 meters, and a width of 2.7 meters, SLIM is equipped with state-of-the-art radar, laser range finders, and vision-based navigation systems, ensuring a precise landing. Its cameras will capture high-resolution images of lunar terrain. Additionally, it carries Lunar Exploration Vehicles and Lunar Robots, known as ORA-Q, notable for their compact size.
After its launch, SLIM will orbit the Moon for approximately three to four months before initiating its descent. Once on the lunar surface, it is expected to operate for about six months, continuously transmitting images to its command center.
The success of this mission holds special significance for Japan’s future lunar endeavors. Japan faced initial challenges in lunar exploration, but it has learned from past experiences and is now on the verge of a historic achievement with the SLIM lander.
Media reports estimate that approximately $102 million has been invested in this pioneering Japanese lunar mission, underlining the nation’s commitment to advancing space exploration.