Japan’s H2-A rocket heads for the moon to attempt a landing

TOKYO – Japan launched a lunar mission on Thursday, overcoming several setbacks and delays, as India became the fifth country to go to the moon in weeks in a global race to better understand Earth’s closest neighbour.

The Japanese Small Space Shuttle, or H2-A rocket, lifted off from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center at 8:42 a.m. local time. It is scheduled to enter lunar orbit in three or four months and land early next year.

The rocket is carrying two space probes: a new X-ray telescope and a lightweight high-precision lunar lander that will serve as the basis for future lunar landing technology. The telescope separated at 8:56 am and the lunar lander was expected to separate at 9:29 am.

The popularity of Japan’s space program hinged on Thursday’s launch. Costly mistakes last year raised the stakes for launches and threatened Japan’s position as a leading global player in space exploration — especially after India successfully landed on the moon last month.

Last month, India landed a robotic spacecraft near the moon’s south pole, an area favored for holding water in the form of ice. A few days ago, Russia landed a vehicle on the surface of the moon on its first lunar mission in nearly half a century. Last fall, China completed its Tiangong space station.

“This is a moment of truth for the Japanese space community,” said Kazuto Suzuki, a space policy expert at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Public Policy. The new technology introduced on Thursday will “open a new horizon for lunar exploration on a global scale, hence the success [lander] Bringing Japan into the first tier group.

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Japan’s performance in space is also important to its national security strategy, developed in response to the advances of China and Russia. In June, Japan adopted its first space defense blueprint to use space technology to improve its defense capabilities and information-gathering systems.

The moon beckons once again, and this time NASA wants to stay

Jupiter’s lunar mission is the Smart Lander for the Exploration of the Moon (SLIM), also known as the “Moon Sniper” because of its highly precise “pinpoint” landing technology. SLIM aims to land within 328 feet (100 meters) of its target location — much closer than conventional lunar landers, which typically have an accuracy of several kilometers.

The advanced imaging technology used in SLIM is an important part of Japan’s response to China’s space program. Data collected by SLIM will also be used by NASA’s Artemis program, the US-led effort to put astronauts on the surface of the Moon and establish a permanent presence there.

“The pinpoint landing technology is being tried by few in the world, so the competition will be fierce. But as far as we know, SLIM will be the world’s first,” JAXA’s project manager Shinichiro Sakai told reporters in June.

SLIM is expected to enter lunar orbit in about three to four months. In four to six months, the plan is to land in a small crater near the moon called Shioli. Experts said the lander will examine the moon’s origins and test technology critical to future lunar landing programs.

The X-ray telescope headed for the Moon is called the X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), a joint venture between JAXA, NASA and other organizations.

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It’s a new generation of high-resolution X-ray imaging that will help scientists and astronomers better study stars and galaxies — including particles launched at light-speed by “supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.” According to to NASA.

Japan has made several attempts to reach the moon, including its Omodenashi project to land an ultrasmall probe. In November, Japan abandoned the project after failing to reestablish contact with the spacecraft. Earlier this year, the Tokyo-based space agency Space It also blocked the first Japanese private sector attempt to land on the moon.

For rivals Japan and China, the new space race is about garbage disposal

Japan’s space missions have suffered several setbacks in the past year.

Last October, the Epsilon-6 rocket failed following a malfunction after liftoff. The rocket was ordered to self-destruct within 10 minutes of launch due to misalignment.

In March, the second stage engine of a critical new rocket, the H-3, failed to ignite. It was also ordered to self-destruct within minutes.

The rocket is the first major upgrade to the country’s rocket program in more than 20 years. It is designed to help the government meet its goal of doubling the number of intelligence-gathering satellites to 10 by 2028.

Then in July, a new Epsilon S rocket engine exploded during testing of a second-stage engine at the Noshiro Test Center in Akita Prefecture. An explosion occurred within a minute of the test, blowing away part of a building on the site.

JAXA is investigating the cause of the accident, which could affect the planned launch of the first Epsilon S rocket in 2024.

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