The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will begin lunar exploration using microsatellites measuring about 30 centimeters long.
While the United States, Europe, China and other countries are planning large-scale moon exploration, Japan plans to launch several low-cost microsatellites with an aim to gain experience useful for future lunar probes. The first two satellites will be launched on U.S. rockets as early as next year.
In 2007, JAXA launched a large-size lunar probe satellite called Kaguya to take detailed images of the moon’s surface. In the first half of the 2020s, it plans to send Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) to the moon. However, the total development cost of Kaguya is as high as ¥55.5 billion and SLIM is ¥15 billion, so JAXA has engaged in only a few such large-scale projects.
In the upcoming project, each microsatellite costs several hundred million yen to develop, and several can be launched at once. If microsatellites carrying a variety of observation equipment are launched continuously, it will be possible to survey a wide area on and around the moon.
JAXA and the University of Tokyo will launch two microsatellites with a new U.S. rocket called Space Launch System (SLS) as early as next year. One of them Omotenashi (37 centimeters long, 24 centimeters wide and 11 centimeters high) is designed to land on the moon using a combination of airbags and rocket thrusters. Another satellite of the same size, Equuleus, will demonstrate technology that uses the moon’s gravity to efficiently manage its own orbit.
Using the results of the two satellites’ performance, JAXA plans to send more microsatellites to the moon using Japanese rockets to search for water that is believed to exist in the moon’s polar regions.
The Japanese government plans to revise its basic space plan next month, which outlines its space policy for the next 10 years, and will stipulate a policy to seek cooperation from the private sector and universities to utilize Japan’s cutting-edge technology, including microsatellites, in the field of the lunar exploration.
JAXA Director General Hiroshi Sasaki said: “Japan is good at microsatellites. We would like to incorporate ideas from the private sector and send many satellites to the moon to show our presence.”