“Japanese Lander, ‘Moon Sniper,’ Successfully Enters Lunar Orbit”

A flight model of the JAXA Moon Sniper, or Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, was recently seen at the Mitsubishi Electric Corporation’s Kamakura Works in Japan, marking an important milestone in Japan’s space exploration efforts. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s “Moon Sniper” lander successfully entered lunar orbit on Christmas Day, bringing the nation one step closer to achieving its goal of landing a robotic explorer on the moon’s surface for the first time.

If successful, Japan would become only the fifth country to accomplish such a feat and only the third country to do so in the 21st century, following China and India. This marks the beginning of a new race for the lunar surface, characterized by efforts to identify and harness the moon’s natural resources for future long-term crewed missions.

The JAXA Moon Sniper lander is now completing one loop of the moon roughly every 6.4 hours, but will gradually tighten its orbit over the next few weeks in preparation for its historic touchdown attempt, scheduled for mid-January. The mission aims to demonstrate a “pinpoint” landing, gathering data about lunar rocks to better understand the moon’s formation.

This historic occasion has its roots in the space race of the mid-20th century, when the United States became the first and only nation to have landed humans on the moon. NASA has not attempted a soft landing on the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

In the current era, various nations and private companies are vying for lunar exploration missions. For example, in 2023, both a privately developed spacecraft from a Japan-based company, Ispace, and a lunar lander launched by Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, attempted to make a touchdown on the moon, but were unsuccessful. By contrast, India’s space agency successfully landed a lunar lander in 2019 near the lunar south pole, an area believed to contain valuable stores of water ice.

Looking ahead, the United States aims to launch as many as three robotic vehicles to the moon’s surface in the coming year, with NASA planning to send astronauts into orbit around the moon in late 2024. The Artemis III mission, if successful, could mark the first time astronauts have returned to the lunar surface since the 1970s.

The race for lunar exploration continues to intensify, with the potential for significant advancements in our understanding of the moon and its resources. Stay tuned for further updates on this historic journey into the cosmos.

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