Japan is gearing up for an exciting lunar adventure as it prepares to launch its Moon mission on September 7. This mission represents the maiden attempt by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface. In the wake of Chandrayaan-3’s success, Japan is hopeful that it can emulate a similar achievement.
SLIM: A Precision Landing Pioneer
At the heart of this lunar endeavor is the “Smart Lander for Investigating Moon” (SLIM), a relatively compact spacecraft weighing approximately 200 kg. In comparison, Chandrayaan-3’s lander module weighed around 1,750 kg. SLIM’s primary mission objective is to demonstrate precision landing within a 100-meter radius of the designated landing site. The mission’s significance lies in its aim to prove that it’s possible to land on the Moon precisely where scientists want, rather than just opting for an easy landing spot.
JAXA emphasizes that “pinpoint” landing technology is crucial to ensure a spacecraft’s proximity to scientifically interesting lunar sites, which are often accessible by a rover. The knowledge of target celestial objects has grown more specific, demanding higher landing accuracy to explore and study these regions effectively.
The successful achievement of pinpoint landing could extend to other celestial bodies, including planets more resource-scarce than the Moon, opening up new possibilities for exploration.
SLIM’s Chosen Landing Site
SLIM’s landing site is located near a small crater named Shioli, situated in the equatorial region of the Moon. Notably, the surrounding area has an approximate slope of 15 degrees, making the method of safely landing on such terrain a significant consideration.
JAXA explains that the “two-step landing method” will be employed, where the main landing gear touches the ground first and then rotates forward for stabilization. This technique has shown excellent landing results through simulations.
A Different Lunar Route
Unlike direct lunar missions that rely on powerful rockets to reach the Moon, SLIM will take a different route. Similar to Chandrayaan-3, it will first go into Earth orbit before heading to the Moon. However, it will not entirely follow Chandrayaan-3’s trajectory. While the Indian spacecraft landed on the Moon 40 days after launch, SLIM is expected to achieve this feat four to six months after liftoff.
The journey to lunar orbit itself will take approximately three to four months, according to JAXA. Following lunar orbit insertion, the spacecraft will spend about a month in lunar orbit before commencing its final descent.
Unlocking New Possibilities
JAXA anticipates that SLIM’s success will unlock fresh opportunities for frequent lunar and planetary exploration missions using small, lightweight spacecraft. SLIM carries two payloads, underscoring the potential for groundbreaking discoveries in the realm of lunar exploration.
As Japan’s Moon mission approaches its launch date, the world awaits with anticipation, hoping that this venture will further enrich our understanding of the lunar surface and pave the way for future missions to explore distant celestial bodies.