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Japan’s “Moon Sniper” Set for Precision Landing in Search for Water and Habitability

by Rahil M
0 comment

The JAXA probe, officially named the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), aims for a precision landing within 100 meters of its target, a feat deemed unprecedented by JAXA. This precise landing capability is considered crucial for the search for moon water and assessing human habitability.

Japan is gearing up for a groundbreaking space mission as its “moon sniper”, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) probe, attempts a precision landing on the moon this Friday. The mission is a significant move for Japan’s space program, which has faced setbacks but now seeks to play a more prominent role in space exploration, including collaborating with the United States in NASA’s Artemis program.

The JAXA probe, officially named the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), aims for a precision landing within 100 meters of its target, a feat deemed unprecedented by JAXA. This precise landing capability is considered crucial for the search for moon water and assessing human habitability. The landing site is a region roughly the size of two athletic tracks on the slope of a crater just south of the lunar equator.

The scheduled 20-minute touchdown phase is set to commence from midnight on Saturday (1500 GMT Friday), marking a one-way mission for the SLIM probe. This mission is part of Japan’s broader ambitions to enhance its role in space exploration. Japan has seen the rise of several private sector space startups and is aiming to send an astronaut to the moon as part of collaborative efforts with NASA.

Japan’s aspirations in space have encountered challenges, including a launch failure in March involving the new flagship rocket H3. However, the SLIM mission represents a significant technological advancement for Japan in the highly competitive field of space exploration.

Shinichiro Sakai, JAXA’s SLIM project manager, highlighted the significance of achieving this precision landing, stating, “No other nation has achieved this. Proving Japan has this technology would bring us a huge advantage in upcoming international missions like Artemis.”

India made a historic achievement in August with its Chandrayaan-3 probe making a successful touchdown on the moon’s south pole. Japan’s focus on high-precision technology is seen as a strategic move, especially for future exploration in hilly moon poles, potentially rich sources of oxygen, fuel, and water. Japan is also planning a joint unmanned lunar polar exploration with India in 2025.

While JAXA has successfully landed on small asteroids in the past, a moon landing poses additional challenges due to the moon’s gravity. Recent failures, such as the crash of a probe from Japanese startup ispace inc. and Russia’s Luna 25, underscore the difficulties in lunar landings.

JAXA’s SLIM mission involves not only the precision landing but also the deployment of two mini-probes upon landing. These include a hopping vehicle, roughly the size of a microwave oven, and a baseball-sized wheeled rover. The robots, jointly developed by tech giant Sony Group, toymaker Tomy, and several Japanese universities, will capture images of the spacecraft.

Kazuto Saiki, a Ritsumeikan University professor involved in developing SLIM’s near-infrared camera for analyzing moon rocks, emphasized the importance of Japan’s focus on specific technologies. Saiki noted that Japan, despite not matching the scale of larger space powers, has consistently excelled in advanced technologies and capabilities.

The SLIM mission’s success, particularly in achieving high-precision goals, could influence the global space community by potentially reducing the cost of lunar missions. The demonstration of Japan’s capabilities, along with its lightweight probe manufacturing, might open up opportunities for space organizations worldwide, making moonshots more cost-effective.

The verification of SLIM’s high-precision achievements is expected to take up to a month following the scheduled landing. The outcome of this mission could position Japan as a significant player in the evolving landscape of lunar exploration.

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