Japan aims to make 1st-ever moon landing on January 20

IANS Photo

Tokyo, December 6 (IANS) The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is expected to make the first-ever landing on the lunar surface on January 20.

If successful, Japan will become just the fifth country to successfully soft-land on the moon, after Russia, the US, China and India.

SLIM and X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) lifted off aboard a homegrown H-IIA rocket in Japan in September.

The 2.7 metre long SLIM "is currently operating smoothly", the JAXA said in a statement.

"While the lunar surface landing was initially scheduled for January or February 2024, based on the smooth progress of operations, it will now be conducted as follows: January 20, 2024 (Saturday)," it added.

If successful, SLIM will land on the slope of Shioli Crater, a relatively fresh, 300-metre-wide impact feature within Mare Nectaris, at 13 degrees south latitude and 25 degrees east longitude on the near side of the moon.

The agency noted that if the landing is not executed at the scheduled timing "a next opportunity is scheduled around February 16, 2024".

JAXA said that SLIM, also known as "Moon Sniper" in Japanese, "aims to achieve a pinpoint landing with an accuracy of less than 100 metres".

"This marks an unprecedentedly high-precision landing on a gravitational body such as the Moon, and the results are anticipated to contribute to the programmes such as international space exploration that are currently under study," the statement said.

Japan has previously failed in two lunar landing attempts. JAXA lost contact with the OMOTENASHI lander and scrubbed an attempted landing in November, while the Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander, by Japanese startup ispace, crashed in April as it attempted to descend to the lunar surface.