TOKYO, April 21 (UPI) -- Japan's space agency announced plans on Monday to send an unmanned lander probe to the moon by fiscal year 2018. The mission will be Japan's first attempt to visit the lunar surface.
Officials with Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) delivered the news at a political roundtable featuring policymakers from the country's education ministry. It's reported that JAXA first cleared the idea (and its expected budget) with Japan's state panel before going public with the news.
"This is an initial step and a lot of procedures are still ahead before the plan is formally approved," a JAXA official told the council on Monday.
The mission is expected to cost between $8 billion and $12.5 billion. The agency will use a probe called SLIM, or the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon. It will be launched to the moon by a small-scale Epsilon rocket built in Japan.
Japan conducted its first lunar mission, called the Japanese Lunar Exploration Program, in 2007. The mission consisted of a series of lunar satellite probes. At the time, JAXA officials called it "the largest lunar mission since the Apollo program."
The newly announced lunar mission is one of several launches JAXA has planned for the next decade. The agency also hopes to put landers on both Martian moons, Phobos and Deimos.