Japan aims first SLIM Robot on Moon in 2018

Japan aims first SLIM Robot on Moon in 2018

Japan's space agency is considering a robotic mission to the moon by 2018 or early 2019, part of an effort to beef up aerospace technology and keep pace with China and other emerging powers. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, included the possibility of a lunar landing in the fiscal year that begins April 1, 2018, in its summary of moon exploration plans by Japan and other countries.

Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

It is expected to be launched in fiscal 2018 or 2019 on a small-scale epsilon rocket. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said the project would herald further exploratory missions to the moon, and then later to the red planet.

Japan has long been one of the world's leading space-faring nations and was the first Asian country, in 1970, to put a satellite into orbit around the Earth. But in recent years the program has been crimped by a shoestring budget. Unlike many space programs, it cannot rely on military budgets or projects to develop its rocket capabilities. 

A mission to Mars in 1998 that was plagued by technical glitches failed and was finally abandoned in 2003. In the meantime, China has made big strides, putting astronauts into space and sending a lander and a rover to the moon.

Agency officials explained the planned mission at a panel of experts with the education ministry on April 20. The probe, called SLIM, or Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, is capable of reaching the targeted landing site to within 100 meters. Officials noted that the probes of other countries landed more than 1 kilometer from their targeted sites. By taking footage of the moonscape, SLIM will land at a site deemed to be devoid of obstacles like rocks.

Officials are considering using a crater that was discovered by JAXA’s Kaguya moon probe as the probe's landing site. In addition to demonstrating its capability to land accurately at a targeted site, JAXA is also considering extra tasks for the probe. 

The government’s committee on space policy is expected to approve the planned mission around this summer after the agency fleshes out more details of the program. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology will request the funds for the program in the budget for next fiscal year.

According to the government’s Basic Plan for Space Policy finalized in January, Japan will launch five small unmanned space probes in the coming decade. Plans are in the cards for a probe to journey to Phobos and Deimos, which orbit Mars, and return to Earth after collecting samples there. (Source: nbcnews)

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