A Japanese lunar lander entered the moon’s orbit on Monday, the Japanese space agency said, ahead of an attempt to land on the star’s surface next month in a first for the country.
The Japanese Space Agency (Jaxa) “is pleased to announce that the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) was successfully launched into lunar orbit at 4:51 p.m. Japan time (7:51 GMT) on Monday,” a Jaxa said in a statement .
“The descent to the Moon will begin at around 12:00 a.m. Japan time on January 20,” and the lunar landing is scheduled for about 20 minutes later, Jaxa added.
The Japanese rocket carrying the small SLIM lunar module, nicknamed “Moon Sniper,” blasted off from the archipelago in September in front of more than 35,000 people on YouTube.
If the module can successfully complete its mission at a maximum distance of 100 meters from the target (compared to several kilometers normally), thanks to high-precision lunar landing technology, it would be an “unprecedented” achievement, Jaxa commented earlier this month.
“The results should be used in international space research programs that are currently being investigated,” she added.
A Japanese astronaut could also set foot on the lunar soil for the first time in 2025 at the earliest as part of the manned US mission Artemis, the Kyodo agency reported on Sunday.
Last August, India managed to land its first space probe on the moon. Before her, only the USA, the Soviet Union and China had achieved such a feat.
Russia, in turn, failed in another attempt because its Luna-25 probe crashed on the lunar soil in August.
A combined lunar landing of the SLIM module would be a welcome success for Jaxa, which has suffered a series of failures since last year.
Japan had already tried to place a mini-probe on the moon in November 2022, which was launched aboard the American Artemis-1 mission. However, communication with “Omotenashi” (“hospitality” in Japanese) was lost shortly after this probe was ejected into space, due to a battery failure.
And in April this year, a young private Japanese company, ispace, failed to land its lunar module, which likely crashed on the surface of Earth’s natural satellite.
Jaxa, in turn, experienced failure shortly after launching a small launch vehicle in October 2022, Epsilon-6, and then experienced two more consecutive setbacks in early 2023 with its new-generation large H3 rocket, which still did not succeed on its first mission.