Japan Joins the Moon Race

Science Fields

The Moon Sniper lander, developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), has achieved a significant milestone by successfully entering the lunar orbit. This accomplishment brings Japan one step closer to realising its ambitious goal of landing a robotic explorer on the lunar surface.

In an official statement, JAXA officials expressed their satisfaction with the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), affirming that it was successfully inserted into lunar orbit on December 25, 2023, at 16:51 Japan Standard Time (JST). The spacecraft now follows a 6.4-hour elliptical orbit around the Moon, ranging from as close as 600 kilometres to the lunar surface at its nearest point to as far as 4,000 km at its farthest.

Measuring 2.7 meters in length, SLIM was launched and deployed into Earth orbit on September 6, alongside XRISM, a potent X-ray space telescope. While XRISM still orbits around Earth, SLIM embarked on a mazy journey to the Moon on September 30, gradually distancing itself from Earth’s gravitational influence. Over the next few weeks, the spacecraft will slowly adjust its orbit around the Moon in preparation for its historic landing attempt.

Scheduled for January 19, SLIM aims for a precision landing with an accuracy of 100 metres or less. This exceptional targeting precision is the reason why the craft is called “Lunar Sniper.” The objective of such a precise landing is to land exactly where desired on the lunar surface, instead of an easier location.

Should this mission succeed, Japan will join the ranks of the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and India as the fifth country to softly land a spacecraft on the Moon. Japan’s robotic explorer will embark on collecting data on lunar rocks, in order to help scientists gain a better insight of how the Moon was formed.

This endeavour marks the initiation of a new lunar exploration race, driven by the collective efforts to identify and exploit the Moon’s natural resources for future, extended crewed missions.



  • 1. https://www.space.com/japan-slim-moon-lander-arrives-lunar-orbit
  • 2. https://global.jaxa.jp/press/2023/12/20231225-1_e.html