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Last Updated: Friday, 14 September 2007, 03:16 GMT 04:16 UK
Japan launches first lunar probe
The rocket on the launch pad in Tanegashima on Thursday 13 September 2007
The orbiter was launched by one of Japan's H-2A rockets

Japan's space agency has successfully launched its first lunar probe on a mission to explore the Moon.

A rocket carrying the orbiter blasted off from the space centre on the remote southern island of Tanegashima.

Over the course of a year, the orbiter will gather data on the Moon's origin and evolution.

Japanese scientists say it is the most complex lunar mission since Nasa's Apollo programme in the 1960s and 70s, when astronauts walked on the Moon.

"We successfully launched the rocket and released the orbiter from the rocket," said Eriko Sunada, a spokeswoman for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa) said.

Three satellites

The three-tonne probe is called Selene, the Selenological and Engineering Explorer.

It has been nicknamed Kaguya, after a princess in a folk story who ascended to the Moon.

The probe will orbit the Earth before travelling the 380,000km (237,500 miles) to the Moon.

There the main orbiting unit and two smaller satellites will be positioned 100km (60 miles) above the surface of the Moon.

They will collect data on its geology, topography and environment, Japan's space agency said.

The launch is four years behind schedule due to launch failures and technical glitches.

Jaxa has been trying to expand its activities and is aiming to achieve manned space flight.

But its programme suffered a setback in 2003 when it had to scuttle a satellite after a rocket launcher failed to separate properly.

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28 Mar 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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