Sun. Mar 3rd, 2024

Japanese probe reaches lunar surface

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Artistic illustration of the Japanese SLIM lander attempting to land on the Moon.

Agence France-Presse< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">The SLIM probe has reached the lunar surface. Japan thus expands the circle of countries that have successfully landed on the Earth's natural satellite. The Japanese space agency has still not confirmed the success of the operation.

Based on telemetry data, it appears that SLIM has landed. We are checking its status, said Shin Toriumi, a space agency official, during a live broadcast of what was announced as a technological feat due to the degree of precision of the space agency. operation.

The space module SLIM (for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) had begun its descent towards the Moon at a speed of approximately 1700 meters per second about twenty minutes before reaching it.

SLIM had been in lunar orbit since the end of December.

The United States is the only one to have sent astronauts to set foot on the lunar surface, from 1969 to 1972 during the Apollo program.

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After having turned away from the Moon for a long time, including for budgetary reasons, NASA, the American space agency, launched the Artemis program in 2017, which aims to bring astronauts back to its soil. , with the eventual construction of a permanent lunar base.

The first two crewed missions of this program, Artemis 2 and 3, come however, to be postponed to September 2025 and September 2026 respectively.

NASA is now partnering with private companies to reduce costs, but this also poses a problem of dependency.

The x27;Starship lander ordered from the private company SpaceX for Artemis 3, the mission which should mark the return of astronauts to the Moon, is far from ready: the machine exploded during its two first test flights last year. A new test is expected in February.

Astrobotic, another private American company commissioned by NASA to send scientific equipment to the Moon, announced on January 10 that its lander was experiencing serious problems since its takeoff, and now had no chance of landing smoothly on the Moon.

Russia failed last summer to land its Luna-25 probe on the Moon, marking the failure of its first mission to the Earth's natural satellite since 1976.

After shining during the days of the USSR, the Russian space sector is in difficulty due to financing problems, corruption and isolation of Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has, however, promised to continue funding lunar missions, and Russia has joined forces with the Chinese lunar base project, a competitor to the American Artemis program.

The Asian giant plans to send taikonauts to the Moon before 2030 and install a sustainable research station there.

If China only sent its first human into space in 2003 – a very long time after the Soviets and the Americans – its space program, with a colossal budget and controlled by the army, has experienced steady development, with impressive advances in recent years.

China successfully made its first moon landing in 2013. In 2019, it became the first country to land a device on the far side of the Moon. The following year, its Chang'e 5 probe brought lunar samples back to Earth – a world first in more than 40 years.

Beijing also succeeded in 2021 in sending a probe (or rover) to Mars, thus imitating the United States, and since 2022 has had its own orbital space station, Tiangong.

A new Chinese mission to bring back lunar samples is planned this year.

Although having much more modest means than the established space powers, India managed last year to land an unmanned rocket, Chandrayaan-3, near the lunar South Pole. Prime Minister Narendra Modi now wants to send an Indian to the Moon by 2040.

In the shorter term, India plans to send a new exploratory probe to the polar regions of the Moon in 2025, in association with Japan.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is also interested in the Moon, but mainly through international collaborations (United States, Japan) . It broke off cooperation with the Russian space agency Roscosmos after the invasion of Ukraine.

South Korea placed its Danuri probe in lunar orbit at the end of 2022, launched aboard a SpaceX rocket, and has set itself the goal of landing a machine on the Moon in 2032.

Intuitive Machines, another American start-up charged by NASA with a logistical lunar mission, must try its luck this year.

No private company has yet successfully landed on the moon. Initial Israeli and Japanese attempts in this category have failed in recent years.

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