Moon rocket with Japanese lander launches for unmanned flight

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An unmanned US spacecraft was successfully put on track to circle the moon and return to Earth after being launched by NASA’s mega rocket on Wednesday, as the US space agency aims for future flights with astronauts under the Artemis lunar exploration project .

The Orion spacecraft, mounted on top of the rocket, along with mini devices including a Japanese lunar lander, successfully separated from the vehicle after launch at 1:47 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to NASA.

Bill Nelson, administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, told a news conference, “I have to say, for what we saw tonight, it’s an A-plus.”

The photo shows the Space Launch System rocket, which carries an unmanned Orion spacecraft and will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy of NASA) (TBEN)


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The rocket also carried a unit of 10 shoebox-sized devices that were deployed en route to conduct experiments and technology demonstrations. Among them are two from Japan – Omotenashi and Equuleus – the former of which is touted as the world’s smallest lunar lander.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said it hopes the Omotenashi lander, which measures 11 inches long, 24 inches wide and 37 inches high, will successfully maneuver as the country’s first probe to land on the lunar surface.

The lander will travel to the lunar surface at a speed of 180 kilometers per hour after being released over the moon. JAXA estimates the mission’s chance of success at 60 percent.

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The other Japanese device, the Equuleus minisatellite, will go to the far side of the moon.

Orion and the other devices were launched by the 98-meter rocket called Space Launch System, which according to NASA is the most powerful rocket in the world.

The unmanned spacecraft will be 280,000 miles from Earth and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.

Orion is expected to crash into the Pacific Ocean on December 11 after orbiting the moon.

The latest development came after NASA canceled launch attempts in August and September due to an engine cooling problem and other failures.

Under the Artemis program, which also involves Japanese and European space agencies, NASA is working to send American astronauts back to the moon and establish a long-term presence there for the first time since the end of the last Apollo mission in 1972. settle.

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The uncrewed flight test is the first in a series of planned Artemis missions, with the primary goal of ensuring a safe reentry, descent, landing and recovery prior to the first flight with a crew, with a view to 2024.

NASA hopes to send humans to the lunar surface as early as 2025, and Orion’s test flight and its other programs are expected to serve as a springboard for future astronaut missions to Mars.

The United States and Japan are deepening cooperation in space, reaffirming their “shared ambition” earlier this year to achieve a future moon landing by a Japanese astronaut as part of the Artemis program.

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