Friday, June 5, 2015

Japan Delays Launch of Its Lunar Lander to Second Half of Fiscal 2019

Japanese Smart Lander for Investigating Moon. Credit: JAXA

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to renovate its facilities at the rocket-launch complex in southwestern Japan in time for the launch of its next-generation flagship rocket, and has delayed the launch of an unmanned moon lander until fiscal 2019, people close to the matter said Thursday. The agency will start the work at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture from fiscal 2017, including the addition of an automated inspection system that will shorten the time for maintenance and allow more launches in a year, they said.

To introduce the automated system, it will renovate the center’s assembly building, launch pads for the existing H-2A and H-2B rockets, and a device to transport rockets to the launch pad. The launch pad for the H-2B will be refurbished to suit the H-3, it said.

JAXA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. are jointly developing the H-3 rocket, successor to the mainstay H-2A rocket, with the goal of halving the ¥10 billion ($80 million) launch cost to enhance its competitiveness in the global satellite launch market.

Meanwhile, JAXA said Wednesday it is pushing back the launch date for the country’s first unmanned moon landing to the second half of fiscal 2019.JAXA informed a panel meeting of the science ministry about the delay. The project was originally due to liftoff in fiscal 2018.

The planned mission involving the experimental Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, will be aimed at establishing a method of landing on the moon within a target area of a few hundred meters, rather than the current target area of a couple of kilometers.

SLIM, which weighs about 120 kg, is scheduled to be launched on an Epsilon advanced rocket from Kagoshima Prefecture.

JAXA said a U.S. company plans to launch a spacecraft in 2017 with the same level of landing technology as SLIM.

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