Japan launches 'Moon Sniper' lunar lander mission

It is hoped to be the country's first successful Moon lander

H-IIA rocket carrying the national space agency's moon lander is launched at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima, Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on September 7, 2023.  Reuters
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Japan launched on Thursday a rocket carrying what it hopes will be its first successful Moon lander, live footage from the country's space agency showed.

The H2-A rocket blasted off at 8.42am local time, carrying the precision "Moon Sniper" lander, which is expected to touch down on the Moon's surface in four to six months.

The lift-off from Tanegashima in southern Japan, which had been postponed three times by bad weather, was watched by about 35,000 people online.

The rocket was also carrying a research satellite developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), Nasa and the European Space Agency.

The launch came after India last month landed a craft near the Moon's south pole, in a historic triumph for the world's most populous nation and its low-cost space programme.

Japan's compact lander, officially called the Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon (Slim), is designed to land within 100 metres of a specific target on the Moon, far less than the usual range of several kilometres.

"By creating the Slim lander humans will make a qualitative shift towards being able to land where we want and not just where it is easy to land," Jaxa said before the launch.

"By achieving this, it will become possible to land on planets even more resource scarce than the Moon."

Globally, "there are no previous instances of pinpoint landing on celestial bodies with significant gravity such as the Moon", Jaxa said.

India joined the US, Russia and China to place a spacecraft on the lunar surface, and the first one to do so on the south pole.

India successfully lands spacecraft on the Moon

India successfully lands spacecraft on the Moon

Japan's previous attempts have failed, including last year when it sent a lunar probe named Omotenashi as part of the US's Artemis programme.

The size of a backpack, Omotenashi would have been the world's smallest Moon lander.

But after the probe was launched by Nasa's powerful rocket from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, the mission went wrong and communications were lost.

Japan has also had problems with launch rockets, with failures after liftoff of the next-generation H3 model in March and the normally reliable solid-fuel Epsilon last October.

In July, the test of an Epsilon S rocket, an improved version of the Epsilon, ended in an explosion 50 seconds after ignition.

And in April, Japanese start-up ispace failed in an ambitious attempt to become the first private company to land on the Moon, losing communication after what the company called a "hard landing".

It was carrying the UAE's Rashid rover, which was to land on and explore the Moon's south pole.

The Japanese rocket that took off on Thursday was also taking into space the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission developed by Jaxa, Nasa and ESA.

The satellite's high-resolution X-ray spectroscopic observations of the hot gas plasma wind that blows through the universe will help study the flows of mass and energy, as well as the composition and evolution of celestial objects.

Updated: September 07, 2023, 1:08 AM