This is super exciting, y'all.
Japan has successfully launched a mission Moonward — and raising the stakes for its attempted landing when it gets there, it's unlike any other lunar mission we've seen before.
As the Washington Post reports, Japan launched its H2-A rocket, a small unmanned craft, from its Tanegashima Space Center this morning. The rocket is slated to enter the Moon's orbit in roughly three or four months and land on the lunar surface early in 2024.
The rocket is, as the reports note, was a vehicle for two missions: one to launch a lightweight telescope, which successfully separated from the rocket soon after its takeoff this morning, and another to land on the Moon to establish a base for future missions.
That second half concerns the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon or SLIM, a hyper-precise lander that has also been given the nickname "moon sniper" for its purported ability to pinpoint its target location within 328 feet or 100 meters, as opposed to traditional landers, which require a berth several or miles kilometers wide.
"Pinpoint landing technology is being tried by some in the world, so the competition is going to be fierce," Shinichiro Sakai, the project manager for the Japanese space agency JAXA, told reporters back in June per the Post. "But as far as we know, SLIM will be the first in the world."
Failure to Launch
Japan's launch of its Moon mission comes just weeks after India successfully landed its first spacecraft there.
Like India, Japan's lunar missions have also faced significant setbacks in the past. As WaPo notes, the country's Epsilon-6 rocket failed last October due to an altitude control, leading ground control to instruct the craft to self-destruct less than 10 minutes after liftoff.
In 2023, the country's lunar program suffered even more failures. In March, another rocket, the H-3, was also forced to self-destruct after its second-stage engine failed to ignite, and in July, another Epsilon series rocket engine exploded during a second-stage test as well.
To add insult to injury, an April attempt by a Japanese startup called ispace, which had been hoping to conduct the world's first entirely-private moon landing, also failed after losing communication with its unmanned lander.
It's clearly been a rough year for Japanese spacefaring, which makes the successful liftoff of the SLIM lander all the more exciting as it prepares to enter the elite squad of nations who've landed on the Moon.
More on Moon maneuvers: Russia Says It's Actually Good That Its Lander Crashed Into the Moon and Blew Up
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