Japan's 'Moon Sniper' lander reaches lunar orbit

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

A flight model of the JAXA Moon Sniper, or Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon, at Mitsubishi Electric Corporation's Kamakura Works in Japan on January 25.

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The “Moon Sniper” lander Developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, it successfully entered lunar orbit on Christmas Day. This milestone brings us one step closer to our goal of landing a robotic explorer on the lunar surface for the first time.

In its current orbit, the lander completes one orbit of the Moon every 6.4 hours. But over the next few weeks, the vehicle will slowly tighten its orbit and dive closer to the moon's surface as it prepares for its historic touchdown attempt, scheduled for mid-January.

If Japan succeeds, it will become the fifth country in the 21st century and the third to achieve such a feat.

China And India The only nations to safely land a vehicle on the moon this century will mark the arrival of a new species to the lunar surface as part of efforts to identify and exploit the moon's natural resources for future long-duration crewed missions.

Japan's robotic explorer will attempt to demonstrate a “pinpoint” landing, aiming to touch down with extreme precision and collect data on lunar rocks that will help scientists better understand the moon's formation.

Goes in for landing

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, announced on Dec. 25 that the lunar lander had been placed into an elliptical orbit and sent on a path that would pass the moon's north and south poles at an altitude of about 370 miles (600 kilometers). 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers).

Over the next 3 ½ weeks, the spacecraft's orbit will take it to within 9 miles (15 kilometers) of the surface when it begins its final descent.

Moon Sniper Lander – Also referred to as SLIM, or A smart lander for lunar exploration — will attempt its soft touch at 10:20 a.m. ET on January 19 or 12:20 a.m. on January 20 Japan Standard Time.

The SLIM light lander will target a landing zone 328 feet (100 meters) longer than the typical kilometer range.

The accuracy led to the mission's nickname, Moon Sniper.

If it reaches the lunar surface, SLIM is expected to explore a site near the Apollo 11 landing site where NASA astronauts first touched down in 1969 — a small impact crater called Sheoli.

The United States is the only country to land humans on the Moon, but NASA has not soft-landed astronauts or robotic vehicles on the lunar surface. Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Both are independently developed spaceship Japan-based company iSpace and A Lunar Lander Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, made a touchdown attempt in 2023 that ended in failure.

Each robot craft crash-landed after experiencing navigational problems.

A lunar lander developed by India's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, successfully touched down in August – becoming the fourth country to do so after the United States, China and the former Soviet Union.

India's spacecraft landed near the moon's south pole, where scientists believe there are valuable stores of water ice, making it the first country to send a rover close to the region.

A year of lunar landing missions

The United States aims to launch three robotic vehicles to the lunar surface in the coming year, after Japan's Moon Sniper spacecraft made a successful landing attempt.

And NASA plans to send astronauts into orbit around the Moon by late 2024.

If successful, the Artemis II mission That could pave the way for another mission that could land humans on the moon later this decade.

NASA's Artemis III mission will mark the first time astronauts have returned to the lunar surface since the 1970s.

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