JAXA & ISRO to embark on Joint Lunar Polar Exploration

Signing of the 2016 MoU. Image courtesy of JAXA.

Japan’s space agency JAXA and India’s space agency ISRO have signed an Implementation Arrangement (IA) for a Joint Lunar Polar Expedition.

Under the IA, the two agencies will jointly conduct a feasibility study and draft a plan for the mission. The plan will detail the technical and scientific goals of the expedition, and is targeted to be completed by 2018.

The first mention of a joint lunar mission was made in November 2016, when the two agencies signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the presence of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Under the MoU, the prospect of lunar pole surface exploration was mentioned, among other possible areas of cooperation.

Last month, during the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum held in Bengaluru, India, the two agencies once again announced the possibility of a joint lunar mission. During the event, ISRO Chairman AS Kiran Kumar and President of JAXA Naoki Okumura both announced that the two agencies were having discussions on the mission.

India and Japan have been cooperating in space for five decades. ISRO and JAXA signed their first agreement in 2005, two years after Japan’s space activities were consolidated under a new organization known as JAXA. So far, the two have collaborated on numerous areas including disaster management and astrophysics, but never in deep space missions.

So far, JAXA and ISRO have an almost equal amount of experience in moon exploration. JAXA has launched 2 lunar probes – Hiten in 1990 and Kaguya in 2007. ISRO, comparably, launched its Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe in 2008, and is expected to launch its Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, lander and rover in the first half of 2018. Meanwhile, JAXA is currently developing lander known as Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), schedule for launch in 2019.

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