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Japan moon mission to kick off on Sept 7, will take at least four months to reach Moon

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This is the first Moon-landing attempt being made by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Japan, which had to put off the launch of its Moon mission in the last week of August because of bad weather, will now send its spacecraft on Thursday morning, hoping to emulate the success of Chandrayaan-3 in making a soft touchdown on the lunar surface.

This is the first Moon-landing attempt being made by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). An earlier attempt made by a private Japanese company in May this year had ended in failure.

SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) is a pretty small spacecraft, weighing just about 200 kg. In comparison, the Chandrayaan-3 lander module weighed about 1,750 kg. The main objective of SLIM is to demonstrate precision landing, within 100 metres of the chosen site. The mission is being pitched as one that would demonstrate that it was possible to land on the Moon “where we want, not just where it is easy to land”.

JAXA said “pinpoint” landing technology was essential to ensure that a spacecraft was close enough to scientifically interesting sites on the Moon, accessible by a rover.

“Nowadays, there has been an increase in the knowledge of target astronomical objects and the details which should be studied have grown more specific so that high accuracy landings near the target of the study have become necessary,” it said.

“By achieving this (pinpoint landing), it will become possible to land on planets even more resource-scarce than the Moon,” it said.

The chosen landing site for SLIM is near a small crater named Shioli in the equatorial region of the Moon.

“Because the landing site is located near a crater, the surrounding area is sloped to approximately 15 degrees. Therefore, the method of landing safely on such a slope becomes important,” JAXA said.

“As science and exploration objectives become more sophisticated, landing on such sloping areas will be increasingly required in the future. Especially for the case of a SLIM-scale spacecraft, the “two-step landing method”, in which the main landing gear first touches the ground and then rotates forward to stabilize, has shown excellent reliable landing results through simulation,” it said.

SLIM will take a very different route to reach the Moon. Like Chandrayaan-3, it does not depend on a powerful rocket to reach the Moon directly and will instead go to the Earth Orbit first. But it will not entirely follow the route taken by Chandrayaan-3. The Indian spacecraft had landed on the Moon 40 days after the launch. But SLIM is expected to accomplish this four to six months after its launch. The arrival in the lunar orbit itself will take about three to four months, according to JAXA, and then the spacecraft would spend about a month in the lunar orbit, before beginning its final descent.

JAXA said the success of SLIM would open up new opportunities for frequent lunar and planetary exploration missions using small, lightweight spacecraft. SLIM is carrying two payloads.

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