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Japan's Lunar Lander On Its Way to the Moon with Successful Rocket Launch

With the succesful launch of its SLIM lunar lander, Japan could become the fifth country to achieve a lunar landing, and it carried two different payloads.



JAXA lunar rover SLIM
A joint project of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the Japan Space Exploration Agency, J-IIA 47 was launched successfully into space on September 7. (© JAXA)

On September 7 the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a lunar lander from Tanegashima Space Center, Kagoshima, with the aim to make Japan the next country to achieve a lunar landing. 

Aboard the H-IIA 47 rocket is the spacecraft "Smart Lander for Investigating Moon" (SLIM). If successful in landing, it would make Japan the fifth country to achieve a lunar landing. Moreover, it is just two weeks after India became the fourth country to do so. 

A collaboration project between JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the next-generation homegrown rocket was launched successfully for the first time. 

Also on the vessel was a new X-ray astronomical satellite to collect high-resolution X-ray images. Called X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), it was realized in collaboration with the United States and the European Union's space agencies, NASA and ESA, respectively.  

SLIM's aim is to investigate the rocks to gain clues on the origin of the moon. It's supposed to reach the moon's orbit within three or four months, and land by February. The launch also lends hope for future steps in Japan's space technology development. 

Aboard the rocket is the spacecraft "Smart Lander for Investigating Moon" (SLIM), which is set to achieve a lunar landing (© JAXA)

A New Step Forward

Historically, Japan's strength in space development was its high reliability. In 2003 and 2014 JAXA launched the asteroid explorers Hayabusa and Hayabusa2, respectively. Both were successful in collecting asteroid samples and bringing them back to Earth. 

Over several years, 46 rockets were launched, with all but one successful. JAXA was boasting a high success rate of 97.8%. 

In recent years, however, JAXA experienced a string of failures. In October 2022, Epsilon 6 suffered a malfunction and failed to launch. A couple of months later, in December, plans to release the ultra-small probe OMOTENASHI were scrapped due to communication breakdowns. 

In March 2023, the first launch next-generation H3 rocket failed, and in July, the second-stage engine of the small solid-fuel rocket Epsilon S exploded during a combustion test.

The team celebrates the launch of H-IIA 47 into space on September 7 (© Kyodo)

Moving Ahead

The H-IIA 47's launch was initially planned for May. However, JAXA postponed the mission to investigate the probelm experienced with its H3 rocket launch. Weather conditions led to three further delays in the range in a week. 

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and JAXA  have taken measures to improve the engine components of the second-stage rocket, and strengthen prior inspections.


At a press conference held at the Tanegashima Space Center on March 24, Keiji Suzuki, team leader in charge of the launch at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said, "We have implemented the countermeasures without fail. We have also received good figures in the subsequent inspections. We are confident in our launch." 

JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said in March, "We will continue to take steps to restore confidence in Japan's rocket launches." 

The successful launch could point to a new era for rocket launches. It means launches which are smaller, more cost-effective, and more easily adapted for commercial production. 

The space business market is expected to expand to nearly ¥150 trillion JPY (over $1 trillion USD) over the next 20 years. And it is one in which Japan is investing. 


Author: Arielle Busetto

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