Japan Plans a Trip to the Moon by 2018

The lander will use information from Japan’s moon-orbiting satellite to stick the landing

Moon eclipse
The moon during a lunar eclipse Geo Rittenmyer/Corbis

The moon has seen many spacecraft by now. The former Soviet Union, the U.S. and most recently, China have all touched down on the surface of our satellite. Now, Japan plans to be the next in line for lunar exploration. They recently announced a plan to launch a probe in 2018.

For CNN.com, Euan McKirdy reports:

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), divulged the plan to an expert panel, including members of the cabinet and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry on Monday.

"This is an initial step and a lot of procedures are still ahead before the plan is formally approved," a JAXA spokesperson told reporters.

Japan hopes to be able to accomplish the feat better and for less money than the three nations who have already landed on the lunar surface, reports Yomiuri Shimbun for The Japan News. The newest moon lander will have the advantage of the latest technology and experience, especially when compared to landings in the 1960s, but that doesn’t mean Japan is taking it easy.

Other moon probes have landed within several kilometers of the target site, but the so-called "SLIM" probe would aim to land within 100 meters (approximately 328 feet) of its target. Shimbun reports that the mission will photograph the moon’s surface as it descends and then access data gathered by the Kaguya lunar orbiter, also known as SELENE, launched in 2007, to make adjustments. Then the probe will come in for a soft landing — something that is notoriously difficult to achieve.

The panel tjat announced the mission estimated that development costs would be somewhere between ¥10 billion to ¥15 billion (about $84 million to $130 million), Shimbun writes.

Rae Botsford End reports for Space Flight Insider:

Yet the lunar mission is not set in stone. “This is an initial step and a lot of procedures are still ahead before the plan is formally approved,” said a JAXA official.

If it occurs, the mission will use a probe called Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), and it will likely be carried aboard JAXA’s solid-fuel Epsilon rocket, a design that has only seen one launch to date. Its maiden flight in September 2013 brought the SPRINT-A satellite, later called Hisaki, to orbit. Epsilon is a smaller and less expensive follow-on to the retired M-V (or Mu-5) rocket.

The probe’s mission will be far more serious that Japanese beverage manufacturer Otsuka’s plan to send a powdered sports drink to the moon. SLIM will test soft-landing techniques that could be used by manned lunar missions in the future.

With China’s fifth lunar probe set for launch in 2017, a lunar lander from India in the works, and all the previous landings, the moon could soon seem downright crowded.

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