TOKYO — Following the successful injection into lunar orbit of its

first Moon probe in October, Japan

has taken the first official, if tentative, steps toward a follow-on mission, possibly a lander, that would launch around



Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also is examining

more ambitious

ideas for lunar exploration that would include a

third unmanned


later next decade and even human exploration in the 2020s. However, officials and observers here characterized the current activity as a planning exercise and said no such missions have been authorized.

On Oct.

26, the Moon Exploration Working Group, a 12-member subcommittee of Japan’s Space Activities Commission, which sets

policy for

JAXA, recommended that Japan consider launching a follow-on to the current Kaguya orbiter mission

. The future


would demonstrate robotic landing technologies, conduct scientific analysis of the Moon’s

mineral resources, and continue


environmental observations

, according to Hiroe Noda, deputy director of the Space Policy Division of Japan’s

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)


In an Oct. 31 interview, Noda said the possibilities for


follow-on mission include a relay satellite, a lander, a miniature rover

and even surface

penetrators left over from the scrapped Lunar-A mission. But

the 10-page report, called “Concerning Advancing Moon Exploration,” contains only suggestions for further study, and nothing more.

“The size of the mission, what instruments it may or may not carry, and the budget, have yet to be discussed in detail,” Noda said.

She added that the mission, if approved, would be scheduled to launch around 2015 aboard an H-2A rocket.

The mission is a long way from

being approved and more-detailed discussions will follow next spring,

Kasaya, chief of MEXT’s Space Utilization and Development Division, said in a Nov.

14 telephone interview. MEXT has requested “a very small budget” for the mission for next

year, but this is only for preliminary research; it

does not mean the mission will actually go ahead, he stressed.


April, JAXA set up a working group of 80 members called the JAXA Space Exploration Center under Kiyoshi Higuchi, JAXA’s executive director,

to look into future lunar and planetary exploration, according to Akinori Hashimoto, an agency


The group

set up

teams in August to study

follow-on projects

to the ongoing Hayabusa asteroid sample-return mission and to

. The latter mission has been tentatively dubbed Selene-2.

Another team is studying an occupied

lunar outpost that would be set up in the 2020s. In between Selene-2 and the lunar outpost there could be a Selene-X mission, Hashimoto said in a Nov. 14 e-mail.

Kazuto Suzuki, a space policy expert and professor at the University of Tsukuba who attended the JAXA meetings on

future exploration, said the plans at this point are

not much more than a “wish list.” The idea is to


the Moon

on the agenda when the

Space Activities Commission draws up long-term plans for exploration next year.

In a Nov.

12 e-mail response to questions, Suzuki dismissed the notion that Japan is engaged in a space race with China or India. But he noted that the media attention focused on Chinese and Indian lunar exploration missions and plans could

spur politicians here to fund Moon


China recently launched its first lunar orbiter and India’s first such mission is scheduled to launch next year.

“From the Japanese point of view, there is no competition,” Suzuki said. Kaguya “was supposed to be launched in 2003 but it was delayed because of the failures of the H-2A

and other program

s. I think China and India may think that this is a competition, but the Japanese don’t for sure.

“However, because of the Chinese and Indian program

s, together with the U.S.

exploration program

, there are political reasons to go to the Moon and JAXA is trying to exploit this opportunity. But through my experience in the preparatory meetings of the new working group, there was

little sense that they wanted to promote a space race … They just want to do what they want to do.”