INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS BACK ON EARTH
There is a geopolitical element to these activities. China, India and Japan – the three nations that have successfully landed on the Moon since 2000 – engage in regional competition across a number of areas, including space. In addition to regional considerations, these accomplishments help to establish nations as leaders on a global scale – capable of something that few nations have ever done.
Japan’s launch comes only six months after India’s moon landing and just weeks after a failed attempt by US company Astrobotic.
Both Russia and the private company iSpace made unsuccessful landing attempts in 2023. Japan’s success in landing on the Moon – even with solar panel issues shortening the timeline for the mission – demonstrates that JAXA is a major player in this global endeavour.
Despite recent setbacks, such as NASA announcing delays to its next Artemis mission, the US is still a clear leader in space and lunar exploration. NASA has multiple spacecraft orbiting the Moon right now, and it’s already successfully launched the SLS rocket, which is capable of taking humans back to the Moon.
NASA is developing very large and complex systems internally – like the Gateway space station, planned to orbit near the Moon, and the infrastructure for the Artemis human Moon missions. It’s not uncommon for these large and complex efforts to experience some delays.
NASA has also turned many smaller-scale efforts over to commercial entities lately – like in the Commercial Lunar Payload Services programme that supported Astrobotic’s attempt. This is a new approach that involves some risk, but provides the opportunity for commercial innovation and growth of the lunar economy while giving NASA the ability to focus on big, complex aspects of the mission.
With regard to the Moon, JAXA has partnered with the US and taken on a very important component of the Artemis missions – the development of a pressurised lunar rover. This is a new and complex technology that will be critical to human missions on the Moon in coming years.
Mariel Borowitz is Associate Professor of International Affairs at Georgia Institute of Technology. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.