Japan achieved a significant milestone in space exploration as it successfully launched its lunar exploration spacecraft, SLIM, aboard an H-IIA rocket. This accomplishment brings Japan closer to becoming the fifth nation to achieve a lunar landing, expected to take place early next year. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) executed the launch from the Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan, following a series of postponements due to unfavorable weather conditions in the past month.
The SLIM mission, often referred to as the “moon sniper,” is a remarkable endeavor with the goal of landing SLIM within a mere 100 meters of its predetermined target site on the lunar surface. This ambitious mission, valued at approximately $100 million, is anticipated to reach the moon by February of the upcoming year.
The successful launch comes on the heels of India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission, which marked India as the fourth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. Japan’s previous lunar landing attempts, however, faced challenges and setbacks. JAXA experienced a loss of contact with the OMOTENASHI lander and had to abandon a landing attempt in November. Additionally, the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, developed by Japanese startup iSpace, met an unfortunate end when it crashed during its descent to the lunar surface in April.
In addition to SLIM, Thursday’s H-IIA rocket also carried the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite, a collaborative project involving JAXA, NASA, and the European Space Agency. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, known as 7011.T, manufactured the rocket and successfully conducted the launch, marking the 47th H-IIA rocket launched by Japan in 2001. This achievement further solidifies the vehicle’s impressive success rate, reaching close to 98 percent.
The launch of the H-IIA carrying SLIM had been postponed for several months as JAXA conducted investigations into the failure of its new medium-lift H3 rocket during its debut in March. Japan’s space missions had also encountered other setbacks, including the launch failure of the Epsilon small rocket in October 2022, followed by an engine explosion during a test in July.
Looking ahead, Japan has ambitious plans for lunar exploration. The country is actively working toward sending astronauts to the moon in the late 2020s. This mission will not only expand Japan’s contributions to space exploration but also contribute valuable insights to humanity’s understanding of Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. Japan’s commitment to lunar exploration demonstrates the nation’s resilience in the face of previous challenges. With SLIM now en route to the moon, Japan is on the verge of joining an exclusive club of countries that have successfully landed on the lunar surface. This achievement not only enhances Japan’s status in the field of space exploration but also showcases its determination to overcome obstacles and make groundbreaking strides in scientific and technological advancements on a global scale.