Japan Launches H2A Rocket Carrying Lunar Lander, Satellite; Success Comes after Recent Failures of Other Rocket Models

The Yomiuri Shimbun
H2A Launch Vehicle No. 47 blasts off from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture on Thursday.

A Japanese H2A rocket carrying a lunar probe and an astronomy satellite lifted off successfully at 8:42 a.m. on Thursday from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) and X-ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) onboard were separated from H2A Launch Vehicle No. 47 and successfully injected into their respective orbits as well.

This is the 41st consecutive successful H2A launch, with a success rate of 97.9% — or 46 of the 47 launches since its first launch in 2001.

As for launches of Japan’s other mainstay rockets, the solid-fuel rocket Epsilon-6 failed in October 2022, and the H2A’s successor H3 Launch Vehicle failed in March. Thursday’s success has spared Japan from a fatal loss of credibility in its rocket industry.

After orbiting the earth, SLIM will head for lunar orbit to attempt Japan’s first lunar landing in January or February next year. If it goes successfully, Japan will be the fifth country to land on the moon, following the former Soviet Union, the United States, China and — most recently — India, which made its first successful lunar landing on Aug. 23 with the Chandrayaan-3.

In April, Japanese space company ispace Inc. tried to become the world’s first private company to land on the moon, but failed. Russia also attempted in August to land on the moon for the first time in about half a century with Luna-25, which is believed to have crashed into the lunar surface after orbiting the moon and losing communications.

XRISM is the successor to the Hitomi X-ray astronomical satellite, which broke apart in 2016 after an abnormal rotation in orbit.

After about three months of functional adjustments, XRISM will observe clusters of galaxies and gas emanating from black holes.

“We’re relieved as XRISM and SLIM take the first step for their respective missions,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told reporters after the successful launch.