Japan’s “Moon Sniper” Successfully Lands on Lunar Surface, a Historic First for the Country

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Japan’s “Moon Sniper” Successfully Lands on Lunar Surface, a Historic First for the Country

Japan's Moon Sniper Successfully Lands on Lunar Surface, a Historic First for the Country

By [Errraan News]

Date: [20/01/2024]

In a historic milestone for space exploration, Japan has joined an elite group of nations by successfully landing its spacecraft on the moon. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) achieved this feat with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) probe, marking Japan as the fifth country to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface. However, the mission faces challenges as the probe is currently running on battery power due to issues with its solar panels.

SLIM touched down on the moon’s surface at approximately 12:20 a.m. (1520 GMT Friday), aiming for a precision landing within 100 meters (328 feet) of its target. This precision landing technology, referred to as a “two-step landing,” is a crucial aspect of the mission. JAXA’s goal is to explore the hilly moon poles, which are considered potential sources of oxygen, fuel, and water.

While the landing was successful, the mission encountered a setback as SLIM’s solar panels failed to generate electricity, possibly due to incorrect angling. “SLIM is now operating only on its battery, and we are prioritizing the transfer of its data onto earth,” said Hitoshi Kuninaka, the head of JAXA’s space lab, during a press conference.

The “moon sniper” mission aims to achieve precision landings, deviating significantly from conventional accuracy, which often spans several kilometers. This precision is crucial for exploring challenging lunar terrains, and JAXA will take up to a month to verify whether SLIM achieved its high-precision goals.

Japan’s increasing involvement in space exploration is evident, with partnerships with the United States to counter China and a growing private-sector space industry. The Japanese space agency has ambitious plans, including sending an astronaut to the moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program in the coming years.

Despite this success, JAXA has faced setbacks in recent months, including the launch failure of its flagship rocket H3 in March. This failure led to widespread delays in Japan’s space missions, affecting SLIM and a joint lunar exploration with India. However, the successful landing of SLIM is a significant achievement for Japan’s space program, showcasing its technological capabilities.

SLIM, weighing 700 kg at launch, prioritized lightweight design to reduce launch costs, aiming for more frequent missions in the future. The probe includes two main engines, 12 thrusters, solar cells, antennas, radar, and cameras. During its descent, SLIM utilized “vision-based navigation” to recognize its location by comparing camera images with existing satellite photos of the moon, enabling precise touchdown.

The mission also involved deploying two mini-probes – a hopping vehicle the size of a microwave oven and a baseball-sized wheeled rover. Developed jointly by tech giant Sony Group, toymaker Tomy, and several Japanese universities, these mini-probes are designed to capture images of the spacecraft upon landing.

As SLIM continues its mission, Japan celebrates its significant achievement in lunar exploration, positioning itself as a key player in the global space exploration arena. The challenges faced by SLIM’s solar panels highlight the complexities of space missions and the need for continuous advancements in technology for future lunar exploration endeavors.

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