The second phase of the moon rush kicked into high gear with Japan's announcement that it has successfully placed the lunar satellite SELENE into orbit around the moon. At $279 million, the unmanned scientific mission is the largest lunar venture since NASA's manned Apollo missions.
China is waiting in the wings with its own satellite, which could be launched by the end of this year. The Japanese mission ran four years behind schedule.
Japan has placed a satellite in orbit around the moon for the first time, officials said Friday, in a major space breakthrough for the Asian nation.
The $279 million Selenological and Engineering Explorer — or SELENE — is the largest lunar mission since the U.S. Apollo program in terms of overall scope and ambition.
The mission involves placing the main satellite in orbit at an altitude of about 60 miles and deploying two smaller satellites in polar orbits, according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.
Researchers will use data gathered by the probes to study the moon's origin and evolution. The main orbiter will stay in position for about a year.