JAXA, The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is eyeing upon achieving its first unmanned soft lunar landing as soon possible, which begins on the 1st of April, 2018 if the funding is made available in the decided period. In consideration of the same, JAXA is also looking ahead to increase its already substantial exploration capital as it has a possible lunar landing in the work.
If the aim is successful, Japan will join the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China as the only nations to touch down on the lunar surface - the latter that will accomplish the feat most recently in 2013.
"This is an initial step and a lot of procedures are still ahead before the plan is formally approved," a JAXA spokesperson told reporters.
Right now, the mission is approximately estimated to cost a total of somewhere between US$83 and $125 million and has its pending approval from the Japanese government. If the mission succeeds to go ahead, it could turn out to be a way for future missions in order to search for mineral deposits on the Moon, and hence, might be a stepping-stone for exploring Mars.
Aim and plans:
As Euan McKirdy from CNN explains, "the plan is to collect data and develop a high-precision soft-landing technology with a high level of accuracy, which could be used in the preparations for future manned missions to either the Moon or Mars."
This technology is to be incorporated into the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or just SLIM: an unmanned probe.
Chihito Onda, a JAXA spokesperson told CNN, "the lander will make the use of face recognition software found in digital cameras, which will be re-engineered to help the craft recognize craters on the lunar surface."
JAXA engineers put forward that they want their SLIM probe to land within 100 metres of their target, though the landing of a probe on the Moon isn't unprecedented. The Japan News notes that many previous lunar landings have deviated from their respective target landing zones by several kilometres.
The Kaguya lunar orbiter, that was launched in 2007, by JAXA travelled around the Moon for nearly two years, photographed the lunar surface and mapping geographical features.
In the year 2009, the Kaguya spacecraft photographed an enormous black cavern, that was about 60 to 70 metres in diameter and with a depth of nearly 100 metres. This feature could lend support to the existence of extensive lava tubes that exist under the Moon's surface, which would, in turn, be optimal locations for moon bases in the future.
And according to The Japan News, the cavern might be well suited as a landing site for the SLIM probe as well.
Moving further, Japan has many times proven its mettle when it comes to landing spacecraft in tricky spots. One of them being the Hayabusa (or Peregrine Falcon) probe that in the year 2005 landed on the near-Earth asteroid Itokawa.
If the latest mission gets its approval, the SLIM probe could be launched aboard one of JAXA's Epsilon rockets in time as early as 2018.
As of now, when talking of softly landing an unmanned probe on the Moon, only the United States, Russia (actually the former Soviet Union), and China have succeeded, with China that comes out to be the most recent by decades with their Chang’e 3 mission that made its mark by its landing in December of 2013. What's to be seen is if this mission finds its success.
Image Source: Time