(NEW YORK) — Japan launched a rocket to the moon Wednesday in an attempt to become the fifth country to land on the lunar surface, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The H-IIA rocket lifted off at 7:42 p.m. ET from Tanegashma Space Center — located on one of Japan’s southern islands — after weather conditions led to the launch being postponed three times between Aug. 25 and Sept. 1.
Onboard the rocket were the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) — which is a lunar lander — and the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), both of which successfully separated after launch, according to the agency.
SLIM is attempting to land with pinpoint precision on the moon — within 100 meters (328 feet) from its target — rather than “somewhere on the moon,” according to JAXA.
The agency hopes that this demonstration will pave the way for a new type of landing in future moon missions and even on other planets.
“In anticipation of future solar system science exploration, we will realize weight reduction for landing on planets with severe resource constraints and mounting higher performance observation equipment,” JAXA said. “We humans will achieve a qualitative shift from the traditional landing, where it is easy to land, to landing where we want to land.”
Because of the fuel-efficient route it is taking, SLIM is not expected to land until early 2024.
If the mission is successful, Japan will become the fifth country to land on the moon after the United States, Russia, China and India
India took its place as the fourth country to reach the lunar surface when its spacecraft landed on the moon on Aug. 23, and the first to do so in the lunar south pole region, where it is scheduled to remain for two weeks, conducting experiments and gathering data.
Russia had attempted to perform a similar mission to India, but its Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the surface of the moon on Aug. 19 after Russia’s space agency lost contact. NASA later published images showing a 33-foot crater left by Luna 25.
Meanwhile, XRISM — complete with a telescope, an X-ray imager and a spectrometer, which detects electromagnetic radiation — is described by JAXA as a space observatory.
It plans to measure the elements contained in stars and galaxies as well as space plasma, which is ionized gasses and the fourth state of matter.
XRISM will also examine “the formation of large-scale structures formed by stars, galaxies, and groups of galaxies will be clarified in unprecedented detail,” the agency said.
This is not Japan’s first attempt at landing on the moon. The country launched the OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration TEchnologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor) alongside NASA’s Artemis I mission in November 2022.
Weighing just 30 pounds, it would have been the smallest lunar lander to ever reach the surface of the moon. However, within one day, JAXA lost communication and had to scrub recovery operations.
Additionally, in December 2022, a private lunar landing mission — Hakuto-R Mission 1 — was launched with an attempt to land in April 2023, but communication was lost, and it ended up crashing.
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