Japan is set to make a significant stride in its space exploration efforts as it aims to become the fifth country to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. The mission, led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), is dubbed the “moon sniper” due to its precision landing objective. Scheduled for Friday, the spacecraft aims to land within an impressive 100 meters of its designated target. This precision technology, considered unprecedented by JAXA, holds crucial importance for the exploration of moon water and the potential habitability of the lunar surface.
Despite facing setbacks in its space program, including a launch failure of the H3 flagship rocket in March, Japan is increasingly positioning itself as a key player in space exploration. The nation is collaborating with the United States, its close ally, to respond to the growing military and technological capabilities of China, particularly in space. Japan boasts a burgeoning private-sector space industry and has aspirations to send its astronaut to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
The JAXA Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) probe is set to embark on a one-way mission, initiating a 20-minute touchdown phase from midnight on Saturday. The targeted landing site, approximately the size of two athletic tracks, is situated on the slope of a crater just south of the lunar equator. Success in this endeavour would make Japan the first nation to achieve such precision in a lunar landing.
The significance of this mission extends beyond national pride; it positions Japan strategically in upcoming international missions like Artemis. Shinichiro Sakai, JAXA’s SLIM project manager, emphasizes the advantage this technology would bring to Japan in future lunar explorations.
Japan’s high-precision technology is envisioned as a vital tool for the exploration of the moon’s hilly poles, considered potential sources of oxygen, fuel, and water. In collaboration with India, Japan plans a joint unmanned lunar polar exploration in 2025. While Japan acknowledges it may not compete with the U.S., China, or India in terms of lunar project resources, it aims to excel in sought-after technologies such as pinpoint landing and advanced cameras for moon rock analysis.
JAXA anticipates taking up to a month to verify SLIM’s high-precision goals post-touchdown. Upon landing, SLIM will deploy two mini-probes – a hopping vehicle and a wheeled rover – developed jointly by tech giant Sony Group, toymaker Tomy, and various Japanese universities. The successful execution of SLIM’s precision landing may not revolutionize space exploration, but it could significantly reduce mission costs globally, opening doors for space organizations worldwide. Japan’s commitment to developing lightweight probes is a testament to its potential to influence the global space exploration landscape.