The rocket carries two space missions: a new X-ray telescope and a lightweight, high-precision lunar lander that will serve as the basis for future moon landing technology. The telescope separated at 8:56 a.m. and the lunar lander was scheduled to separate at 9:29 a.m.
The reputation of Japan’s space program was at stake with the launch on Thursday. A series of costly mistakes over the past year have raised the stakes for the launch and threatened Japan’s position as a leading global player in space exploration – especially in the wake of the India’s successful moon landing last month.
Last month, India landed a robotic spacecraft near the moon’s south pole, a coveted area that is home to water in the form of ice. A few days earlier, Russia crushed a vehicle on the lunar surface 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 launched on Thursday “will open a new horizon for lunar exploration globally, so the success of (the lander) will bring Japan into the top-tier group.”
Japan’s performance has also been important for its national security strategy in space, which was developed taking into account advances by China and Russia. In June, Japan adopted its first space security plan, aimed at improving its defensive capabilities and information-gathering systems using space technology.
Thursday’s lunar mission was the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), also known as a “lunar sniper” because of its ultra-precise “accurate” landing technology. SLIM aims to land within 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 forms an important part of Japan’s response to the Chinese space program. Data collected through SLIM will also be used for NASA’s Project Artemis, a US-led effort to place astronauts on the surface of the Moon and establish a lasting presence there.
“Precise landing technology is currently being tested by some around the world, so the competition is going to be fierce. But as far as we know, SLIM will be the first in the world,” JAXA 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, it should land on a small crater on the near side of the Moon, called Shioli. The moon landing mission will study the origins of the moon and test technology essential to future moon landing programs, experts said.
The X-ray telescope en route to the Moon is called X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), jointly developed by JAXA, NASA and others.
This is a new generation of high-resolution X-ray imaging that will help scientists and astronomers better study stars and galaxies, including particles launched at near light speed from “holes”. supermassive blacks at the center of galaxies”. according to at NASA.
Japan has made several attempts to reach the Moon, including its Omotenashi project to land an ultra-small probe. In November, Japan abandoned the project after failing to restore communications with the spacecraft. Earlier this year, a Tokyo-based space company space also ended Japan’s first private sector attempt to land on the moon.
Japan’s space missions have suffered several other setbacks over the past year.
Last October, the Epsilon-6 rocket failed following a malfunction after takeoff. The rocket was ordered to self-destruct less than 10 minutes after launch because it was not on the correct trajectory.
In March, the second-stage engine of a major new rocket, the H-3, failed to ignite. He was also ordered to self-destruct within minutes.
It is the first major upgrade to the country’s rocket program in more than 20 years. It was designed to help the government achieve its goal of doubling the number of intelligence-gathering satellites to 10 by 2028.
Then, in July, the new Epsilon S rocket engine exploded during a second-stage engine test at the Noshiro Test Center in Akita Prefecture. The explosion occurred about a minute into the test, taking part of the building to the site.
JAXA is investigating the cause of the accident, which could affect the launch of the first Epsilon S rocket scheduled for 2024.