A new challenger has entered the Space Race. As reported by The Byte, Japan is the most recent country to set its sights on the Moon. The Land of the Rising Sun recently launched a rocket called the H2-A that is slated to enter the Moon’s orbit approximately three to four months from now, with a touchdown on the Moon’s surface expected early next year.
Japan just entered the space race with an unmanned mission to the Moon.
The unmanned craft was launched from Tanegashima Space Center earlier this month with two missions. The first was to launch a lightweight telescope into outer space, which it accomplished soon after takeoff.
The second mission involves something called SLIM—an acronym for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon—a super precise lunar lander that scientists have nicknamed “moon sniper” due to SLIM’s unrivaled ability to arrive within 328 feet of its target location. A far cry from the several-mile-wide berth required by most old-school landers.
Shinichiro Sakai, the project manager for Japan’s version of NASA, JAXA, told reporters in June of this year that “pinpoint landing technology” is currently being developed by other nations besides Japan, making the competition “fierce.”
Sakai was confident at the time, however, that SLIM would be “the first of its kind in the world” to go to the moon, something that so far is proving to be true, provided nothing unforeseen happens to H2-A between now and its scheduled 2024 landing.
With the sorry state of Japanese space exploration for most of 2023, it’s even more impressive that the SLIM lander experienced a successful liftoff and is well on its way to the Moon.
The launch of Japan’s rocket comes just weeks after India became the latest country to be able to put “Landed on the Moon” on its resume. Like India, Japan faced some setbacks on the road to its first Moon launch. In late October, Japan’s Epsilon-6 rocket succumbed to a problem with altitude control and had to be ordered to self-destruct less than 10 minutes after launch.
Japan’s Previous Attempts At Space Exploration
Meanwhile, in March of this year, another of Japan’s attempts at Moonward expansion was forced to abort following a second-stage engine’s failure to ignite. A few months later, in July, a second Epsilon rocket exploded—this time unprompted.
Private lunar exploration in Japan has also been rife with setbacks. In April of 2023, a Japanese startup known as ispace was hoping to be the first company to successfully complete the world’s first entirely private moon landing. The mission was deemed a failure after ispace lost communication with the unmanned lander.
With the sorry state of Japanese space exploration for most of 2023, it’s even more impressive that the SLIM lander experienced a successful liftoff and is well on its way to the Moon. If the country’s luck holds, Japan will soon be one of the few countries to have landed on the surface of the Moon.
With so many government organizations and private companies taking a renewed interest in traveling the cosmos, it’s an exciting time for space exploration. Now that countries like India and Japan have conquered the Moon—figuratively speaking—it’s only a matter of time before somebody finally sets foot on Mars. Apparently, the sky isn’t the limit, after all.