Japan schedules August launch for 'Moon Sniper' lander

Nifty XRISM plasma-spotting scope to ride the same Mitsubishi

Japan's Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has named August 26 as its intended launch date for a lunar lander it hopes will improve humanity's ability to touch down on other worlds – as well as an astronomical observation that might help us understand how they form.

The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) is also known as the "Moon Sniper" thanks to its use of technologies that JAXA claims "make a qualitative shift towards being able to land where we want and not just where it is easy to land." If JAXA can pull that off, it believes "it will become possible to land on planets even more resource scarce than the Moon."

The sobriquet "sniper" has been applied because the craft is equipped with high-resolution cameras and an image processing algorithm. As it swings into lunar orbit, it will be able to recognize craters and measure its position, then decide on an optimal spot to land. JAXA expects it to touch down within 100 meters of its preferred target.

That accuracy is important, because it means future missions can send instruments to specific locations, instead of having to design missions around the places where landing will be easiest. As the guy said – we do this not because it's easy, but because it's hard.

SLIM is therefore small – 2.7x1.7 meters – and will weigh 210kg at touchdown. That small size, JAXA asserts, is important because the kind of future missions it's envisioning may require purpose-specific payloads.

JAXA has posted details of the tech aboard SLIM, and the complex orbit that will take it to Luna, here.

The mission’s other payload is the Developing X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) – billed as "a new X-ray astronomical satellite which observes plasma in stars and galaxies" and might just "resolve mysteries regarding the formation of the universe" with its X-ray spectroscopy tools.

Readers may recall that JAXA's had a bad run of luck, losing its two most recent rockets.

SLIM and XRISM are riding a Mitsubishi H-IIA launch vehicle, which has clocked up over 30 successful missions in a row since 2005. The two craft are riding the 47th H-IIA, so have as good a chance as any.

As does SLIM – JAXA has twice landed probes on asteroids!

If SLIM performs as planned, it may make Japan the fourth nation to land on Luna. India launches its own lander next week, and if it succeeds will beat Japan. ®

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