Tokyo: Japan’s space agency announced on 12 April that it plans to send its first probe around the moon in August.
The 32-billion yen (US$269 million) Selene, or selenological and engineering explorer, will be carried into space by a Japanese-built H-2A rocket, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency spokesman Tatsuo Oshima.
During its one-year mission, the probe is designed to release two small satellites to measure the moon’s magnetic and gravitational fields, Oshima said.
It will be the country’s first lunar orbiter, he said.
Japan in 1990 sent a satellite into space to collect scientific data about the moon, Oshima said.
Selene will be launched in August from the country’s space center on the remote southern island of Tanegashima, Oshima quoted JAXA President Keiji Tachikawa as telling reporters. No exact launch date has yet been determined.
Japan became the fourth country to put a satellite in orbit, in 1972, but its space programme has suffered setbacks in recent years. Its effort to develop a commercial satellite launch industry was dealt a blow in 2003 when a rocket carrying two spy satellites malfunctioned and had to be destroyed in mid-flight.
Last month, a Japanese government official said one of its four spy satellite was unresponsive due to apparent electrical problems. The other three satellites were functioning normally, the officials have said.