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Last Updated: Friday, 5 October 2007, 04:09 GMT 05:09 UK
Japanese probe enters lunar orbit
A rocket carrying the orbiter takes off on 14 September 2007
The orbit was launched by a Japanese H-2A rocket last month
Japan's lunar explorer has successfully entered orbit around the Moon, space agency officials have said.

The Kaguya orbiter was launched last month from Japan's space base on the southern island of Tanegashima.

It will deploy two smaller satellites and, over a year, 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 believe this is a big step," said Yoshisada Takizawa, a project manager at Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa).

"Everything is going well and we are confident."

Space race

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

Its nickname, Kaguya, refers to a princess in a folk story who ascended to the Moon.

The main orbiting unit will ultimately be positioned 100km (60 miles) above the surface of the Moon, while two smaller satellites will be deployed in polar orbits. They will collect data on the Moon's geology, topography and environment, Japan's space agency said.

Engineers confirmed that the main unit had entered lunar orbit early on Friday, Mr Takizawa said. It will gradually move into a lower orbit as it maps the Moon's surface.

The data collection phase of the mission will begin in mid-December, he said.

Japan launched its first satellite in 1970, but in recent years its space programme has been hit by technical and financial problems.

It trails China, which in 2003 became the first Asian country to put an astronaut in space. Both China and India are expected to launch lunar probes in the next few months.

So Jaxa has been working to expand its activities - its stated aim is to achieve manned space flight by 2020.

SEE ALSO
Japan launches first lunar probe
14 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan launches new spy satellite
11 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Launch takes Japan back to space
26 Feb 05 |  Science/Nature
Japan scuttles two spy satellites
29 Nov 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Japan's spy satellites
28 Mar 03 |  Asia-Pacific

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