Japan will shoot for the moon with a launch this weekend.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is planning to launch its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission on Sunday (Aug. 27) at 8:26 p.m. EDT (0026 GMT and 9:26 a.m. Japan time on Aug. 28). You can watch live in the link above this text; coverage will start roughly 35 minutes before launch.
The mission will launch from Tanegashima Space Center atop the Japan’s H2-A rocket. SLIM’s landing, which is expected to occur four to six months from now, will be Japan’s second attempt in recent months to put hardware on the moon’s surface. An effort by the Tokyo-based company ispace failed during its landing try on April 25.
Also flying on the H-2A on Sunday is the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) mission, which aims to scrutinize the universe in X-rays. That spacecraft is a collaboration involving JAXA, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
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SLIM is a small moon mission with big aims. The probe aims to demonstrate accurate lunar landing techniques with a precise touchdown. The mission plan calls for a landing no more than 328 feet (100 m) from a target inside the moon’s Shioli Crater.
From there, the lander will examine the environment surrounding it in Shioli Crater, a 984-foot-wide (300 m) impact feature inside Mare Nectaris. The area is roughly at 13 degrees south latitude and 25 degrees east longitude, on the near side of the moon facing Earth.
If SLIM makes it safely to the surface, Japan will become just the fifth country to do so after the former Soviet Union, the United States, Japan and India. India just joined the group with the historic Aug. 23 touchdown of its Chandrayaan-3 rover-lander duo. (Other countries have made attempts, including Russia, whose Luna-25 lander recently crashed following an unsuccessful maneuver on Aug. 19.)
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JAXA is a partner in the NASA-led Artemis Accords that are aiming for the moon while establishing peaceful norms in space. The accords have dozens of signatories so far, and Japan is among the nations actively participating in NASA’s human moon program, called Artemis.
Last year, U.S. president Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed Japan will have a key role in Artemis missions.
A Japanese astronaut will go to NASA’s planned Gateway moon-orbiting space station, and both Biden and Kishida have a “shared ambition” to put a Japanese astronaut on the moon, NASA officials stated at the time. (The first expected landing in the NASA program is Artemis 3, no earlier than 2025 or 2026, pending hardware readiness and the success of Artemis 2, a round-the-moon mission scheduled to launch in late 2024.)
Japan received its seats and science on board Artemis missions via a set of international pacts with the U.S. The agreements span matters such as cybersecurity, 5G cellular networks and science and technology collaborations, a White House explainer document stated.