Japan's JAXA is next in line to launch a lunar lander

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) SLIM lander will demonstrate accurate landing technology as well as a low-cost, lightweight infrastructure.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the SLIM lander in lunar orbit.
An artist's impression of the SLIM lander in lunar orbit.


Japan is launching a lander to the lunar surface hot on the heels of India's Chandrayaan-3 lander, which became the first to ever land near the lunar south pole this week.

A Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) H2-A rocket will launch the SLIM mission on August 28 at 09:26 JST (August 27, 20:26 EDT) from Tanegashima Space Center in southern Japan.

It will lift an advanced imaging satellite, XRISM, into orbit and send a lightweight lander on a journey to the Moon. If all goes according to plan, the lander will perform a soft landing in January or February.

Japan sets its sights on the Moon

There are no guarantees of success when it comes to landing on the Moon.

Just days before Chandrayaan-3 performed a successful soft landing, Russia's Luna-25 mission, the country's first lunar mission in almost 50 years, crashed on the lunar surface.

JAXA, meanwhile, has suffered several setbacks in recent years, including the failure of its sixth Epsilon rocket launch in October last year and an explosive failed debut launch for its new H3 rocket.

In an interview with The Japan Times, Jiro Kasahara, a professor at Nagoya University's Department of Aerospace Engineering, explained that many see this as a make-or-break mission for JAXA due to its recent failures.

"Japan only has one shot at this," Kasahara explained, adding that "landing on a moving celestial body is an incredibly important technology to master."

Japan's JAXA is next in line to launch a lunar lander
An artist's impression of SLIM on the Moon.

Japan's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission was designed to demonstrate accurate lunar landing technology that could make it easier to land on trickier terrain.

This type of technology is particularly interesting now that the world's leading space agencies have set their sights on the lunar south pole because it may harbor vast amounts of ice water. The lunar south pole is known to have tricky terrain compared to the Apollo landing sights, meaning new landing-related innovations are required.

Japan envisions the technology being used beyond the Moon, though. JAXA states that as humanity continues to learn more about the cosmos, precision landing technology will be increasingly required as we look to land at interesting locations to uncover their mysteries.

JAXA's SLIM mission to demonstrate low-cost lander technology

SLIM also demonstrates lightweight and low-cost lander technology that could be used for sample return missions. The saved weight on spacecraft materials could also allow more scientific payloads to fly aboard spacecraft using the same infrastructure.

As its name suggests, SLIM is a relatively small lander standing at 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) tall and with a width of 8.8 feet (2.7 meters). It will weigh 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) at launch, roughly two-thirds of that mass being fuel.

The lander will aim to land within the Shioli Crater, a 984-foot-wide (300 m) impact feature within Mare Nectaris on the near side of the Moon.

SLIM features a crushable aluminum foam base at the bottom of the spacecraft. If all goes to plan, that will absorb the impact of a soft landing on the lunar surface in early 2024.