Akihiro Ikeshita / JAXA
Japan put its $279 million Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) satellite
into orbit around the moon on Friday, accelerating a space race in Asia between
itself, China and India. According to Japanese space agency officials, the probe
was set into a lunar orbit after completing a complicated navigational manoeuvre
late on Thursday.
Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) officials expressed their pleasure at the
conclusion of the manoeuvre describing it as a big step for the mission. The probe
will now gradually move into an orbit closer to the surface of the moon, before
commencing a yearlong observational mission. In terms of its scope, the SELENE
probe is the largest lunar mission ever mounted after the US Apollo programme,
according to Japanese officials.
mission involves a main satellite - called "Kaguya," after a legendary
moon princess - and two smaller satellites. While the "Kaguya" will
move in a circular orbit, at an altitude of about 60 miles, the two smaller satellites
will rotate in elliptical orbits.
to JAXA officials, the observation phase will commence in mid-to late-December,
and data from these probes will be used to study the moon''s origin and evolution.
is running four years behind schedule, but comes just in time for Japan as it
puts the nation ahead in a new race to the moon with competing Asian nations,
China and India. While China expects to launch a lunar probe by the end of the
year, India will follow with an unmanned lunar mission in 2008 and a manned programme
lunar orbiter will use stereo cameras and X-ray spectrometers to map three-dimensional
images of the lunar surface and study its dust.
unmanned moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, is expected to take off on its journey in
April 2008. The manned space mission will follow in 2015.
launched its first satellite in 1970 and a fly-by moon probe in 1990. SELENE was
launched on Sept. 14 aboard one of JAXA''s mainstay H-2A rockets from Tanegashima,
an island where the agency''s space centre is located.
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