Selene is the first joint lunar project between the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) and The Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS). Selene means in ancient Greek goddess of the moon.
The spacecraft, made up of a lunar orbiter and a relay satellite, will take five days to travel to the moon. The relay portion will be jettisoned and will enter an elliptical orbit around the moon. After completing a year’s worth of remote sensing work, the orbiter portion will then separate its propulsion module, which will land on the moon. Engineers in Japan are testing a propulsive landing system for a small spacecraft that, by 2004, could make the nation only the third in history to touch down a probe on the Earth’s moon.
The unmanned Selenological and Engineering Explorer ("Selene") will be launched in 2003. It will spend a full year in lunar orbit and then separate its propulsion module to land on the moon. Using an 880-pound (400-kilogram) flying test bed, the engineers hope to prove the mockup’s ability to use its small jet engines to independently ascend and descend and move laterally.
The trials began with the test bed suspended from a crane and then a helicopter. By June, the craft should be able to fly – untethered – to an altitude of about 0.5 miles (1 kilometer) and then land safely, simulating the final phase of a lunar landing over the course of the roughly five-minute flight.
The Japanese hope the mission will shed light on the moon’s origins and evolution, as well as put technology for future exploratory spacecraft to the test.
The Japanese also hope to launch a lunar orbiter in 2002 or 2003. Lunar-A will drop two penetrators onto the moon’s surface, where they will monitor seismic activity for an entire year, relaying their data to the orbiter.
Japan’s Hiten (Muses-A) spacecraft was launched in 1990 and later injected the tiny probe Hagoromo into orbit around the moon. Hiten remained in orbit until 1993, when it impacted the moon.
Did you know?
Only the Soviets and Americans have ever successfully soft-landed spacecraft on the moon, the last in 1976.
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Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014