Lunar Lander on Japan’s “Wish List” for Future Exploration

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  Space News Business

Lunar Lander on Japan’s “Wish List” for Future Exploration

By PAUL KALLENDAR-UMEZU
Space News Correspondent
posted: 06 December 2007
10:32 am ET





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




2015.

The




Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also is examining




more ambitious




ideas for lunar exploration that would include a




third unmanned




mission




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




mission




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




mineral resources, and continue




Kaguya’s




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




the




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,




Keigo
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.



In




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




spokesman.

The group




set up




teams in August to study




follow-on projects




to the ongoing Hayabusa asteroid sample-return mission and to




Kaguya
. 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




keep




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




exploration.

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.”