Japan just revealed some of its plans for space exploration, including the amazing hope of landing a robot explorer on the moon by 2015 and having an entire base of robots by 2020. Will they beat NASA in the new Lunar Space Race?
The robotic moonman plans involve about $2 billion of research, development and operation over the next 10 years. By 2015 an autonomous robot system will be fired to the lunar surface, where it'll rove around and survey the areas of interest using an assortment of sensors, such as seismometers, and high-resolution video capture. Information collected will form a huge data archive which will then be used to inform the next stage of the plan: An entirely energy self-sufficient robot "colony" established in 2020. The base will establish a hub for robonauts to roam hundreds of kilometers over the lunar soil on month-long missions, far further than any other moon exploration system has yet done, and yield unprecedented data on the lunar surface and internal structure.
As if that's not enough, the aim is to co-develop a manned lunar exploration program, which will also leverage the results from the robotic exploration, to the tune of some $1 billion over the same period.
Japan's certainly got the techspertise in robotics for this mission to be carried out. And with successes like the recent launch of its multiple-payload H2A rocket, carrying a payload that included a Venus probe and a beautiful solar sail experiment, the Japanese also have enough good rocket science to get this mission going.
This may, possibly, turn into a whole new Space Race. Because though NASA recently proposed its own super-fast robot mission to the moon, it's not even begun to go through serious funding efforts yet. And with NASA in a degree of disarray after Obama's budget intervention and culling of the lunar exploration Constellation program, it may be many years 'til American tech once again rockets moonwards. With national pride in Japan's tech domination taking a bit of a dent at the moment, thanks to innovations like the iPhone and iPad stealing Japan's traditional tech thunder, perhaps the nation may rally behind its space program instead ... and that would be exciting.