Japan unveils 20-year plan to visit the moon

Japan's space agency plans to send spacecraft, people to the moon within 20 years. Lunar research base, Mach 2 passenger jet also planned.

Japan's space agency said it plans to develop a manned spacecraft and send it to the moon within the next 20 years.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said it will have a rocket capable of carrying humans into space within 10 years.

The project will be based on the H-2A rocket the country successfully launched into space in February to transport a communications satellite.

JAXA will then begin work on a reuseable Japanese space shuttle based on a robot spaceship now under development to ferry cargo to and from the international space station.

Plans call for a Japanese astronaut to be sent to the moon within 20 years.

JAXA is also planning to use robots to conduct probes, and build a staffed research base on the moon, an agency official said Wednesday.

Long-range satellites that travel 1.5 million kilometres and search for evidence of the universe's origins and life beyond the Earth are also planned, the spokesperson said.

Another part of the aerospace program is a passenger airliner that will travel at Mach 2 or twice the speed of sound, to fly people between Tokyo and Los Angeles in five hours. An unmanned hydrogen-fuelled plane that can travel at Mach 5, is also in the works, he added.

Last year, Japan shifted its space plans from a probe-based program to a potential astronaut program.

China, which put its first astronaut into orbit in October 2003, has also announced plans for a mission to the moon.

with files from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation