TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- A Japanese satellite was injected into lunar orbit, a first for the nation and for Asia, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) confirmed Friday.
The satellite, known as SELENE (Selenological and Engineering Explorer ) and nicknamed "KAGUYA," was launched from Tanegashima Space Center on September 14. It was injected into orbit on Thursday, JAXA said on its Web site. The mission consists of a main orbiting satellite at about 100 kilometers (62 miles) altitude and two smaller satellites, the site said.
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, The Associated Press reported.
Messages and signs were collected from more than 412,000 people to be aboard the satellite, JAXA said.
Japan launched a moon probe in 1990, but that was a flyby mission. It canceled another moon shot, LUNAR-A, that was to have been launched in 2004 but had been repeatedly postponed because of mechanical and fiscal problems, AP reported.
The SELENE satellite mission -- four years behind JAXA's original schedule -- comes as China is planning to launch its own lunar probe. That country's minister of defense and technology told China Central Television in July all was ready for a launch "by the end of the year," AP reported.
China's Chang'e 1 orbiter will use stereo cameras and X-ray spectrometers to map three-dimensional images of the lunar surface and study its dust, AP reported. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.
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