H-IIA rocket carrying Japan's first military communications satellite lifts off from Tanegashima space port on Tanegashima Island, southern Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo Jan. 24, 2017. Reuters


  • The rocket, carrying the XRISM satellite, was launched from Tanegashima Space Center Thursday morning
  • Information collected by XRISM could help understand how celestial objects are formed
  • With the launch, Japan has entered the moon race and hopes to be the fifth country to land anything on the moon

Japan, in a bid to become the fifth country to land anything on the lunar surface, has successfully launched a rocket that is now on the way to the moon.

The launch of the homegrown HII-A rocket took place from Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan. Dubbed the "moon sniper," the mission is expected to touch down on the moon in February, according to the current plan of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

"We have a liftoff," a narrator at JAXA said on live video as the rocket was launched.

After a series of postponements due to bad weather, the rocket took off as planned Thursday morning, and it successfully released the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), making Japan the new entrant in the moon race.

The spacecraft will enter the moon's orbit within four months and then spend another month circling the moon before the planned landing in February. The rocket also carries a satellite called the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM), jointly developed by JAXA, NASA and the European Space Agency.

The mission for XRISM includes measuring the speed and makeup of what lies between galaxies, which will help study how celestial bodies are formed. JAXA said this could further help scientists conclude how the universe was created.

The U.S., the former Soviet Union, China and India were predecessors to Japan in landing on the moon. However, the Japanese lunar mission could still be groundbreaking if the landing goes according to plan.

The mission is called the "moon sniper" because it aims at landing within 100 meters (roughly 330 feet) of its target on the lunar surface. If successful, this could be a game-changer as it is far less than the conventional range of several kilometers.

"By creating the SLIM lander, humans will make a qualitative shift towards being able to land where we want and not just where it is easy to land," JAXA said ahead of the launch. "By achieving this, it will become possible to land on planets even more resource-scarce than the Moon."

"There are no previous instances of pinpoint landing on celestial bodies with significant gravity such as the Moon," JAXA added.