Japan’s “Moon Sniper” mission has blasted off on its mission to land on the lunar surface with pinpoint precision. While most Moon landings are designed to touch down within a range of several kilometers, this mission aims to land within just 100 meters (328 feet) of its target.
A rocket holding the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) probe was successfully launched on the morning of September 7 from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
You can watch a full livestream of the launch in the video player below.
Just 14 minutes after blast-off, the rocket released a satellite, putting it into orbit around Earth where it will study the formation of structures in the universe and the evolution of galaxy clusters.
Meanwhile, the remaining SLIM probe is on its long voyage toward the lunar surface, ready for its “pinpoint landing” sometime in early 2024. If it pulls off this feat, Japan will become the fifth country to successfully touch down on the Moon.
The prime objective of the “Moon Sniper” mission is to demonstrate the use of high-precision landing technology for future Moon and planetary exploration.
Scattered with rocky terrain and steep slopes, the lunar surface is not easy to traverse. To make in-situ observations, rovers often have to navigate long distances across this unforgiving landscape.
JAXA has explained that this mission hopes to show how pinpoint landing will make lunar exploration notably more effective and easier in the future. This could prove especially important for missions to hunt for sustainable water resources, which are likely to be limited to very specific areas.
"The big objective of SLIM is to prove the high-accuracy landing... to achieve 'landing where we want' on the lunar surface, rather than 'landing where we can'," JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference, as per Reuters.
Japan has had a few failed lunar landings in the recent past. In November 2022, JAXA launched the OMOTENASHI lander, but it lost contact before it reached the Moon so its attempted landing was scrubbed. In April this year, a Japanese startup attempted to become the first private landing on the Moon, but it lost communication with its spacecraft and ultimately failed.
It seems like Moon landings are all the rage again. Last month, India’s Chandrayaan-3 became the first mission to successfully land on the south pole of the Moon.
Just days before, Russia had high hopes of achieving this record before India, but their effort ended in disaster. On August 19, the Russian spacecraft crashed into the Moon after entering an uncontrolled orbit, leaving behind a new crater that was imaged by NASA.
Fingers crossed, luck will be on the side of Japan this time.