Japan celebrated a significant achievement as its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (Slim Moon Craft) successfully made a soft landing on the lunar surface, marking Japan as the fifth nation to accomplish this feat.
However, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) faces a new challenge as the solar panel of Slim Moon Craft failed to generate power, potentially affecting the spacecraft’s activity on the Moon.
Equipped with various instruments, including a camera, laser altimeter, and magnetometer, Slim is designed to study the Moon’s geology, environment, and resources. Despite the successful landing, the inability of the solar panel to generate power poses concerns for the mission’s longevity.
JAXA confirmed the successful landing of Slim Moon Craft on January 20, 2024, at 0:20 am (JST) and established communication with the spacecraft. However, the solar cells are not currently generating power, prompting the space agency to prioritize data acquisition from Slim on the Moon.
The head of JAXA’s research, Hitoshi Kuninaka, expressed that the small rovers of Slim Moon Craft were launched as planned. Given the reliance on its battery, which has a limited lifespan of “a few hours,” JAXA has prioritized transferring Slim’s data to Earth.
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Kuninaka mentioned that they would maintain the current status of Slim without taking any risky actions, hoping that the solar panels might regain functionality and generate power when the sunlight’s angle changes.
However, the challenge for Slim Moon Craft lies in the fact that it takes approximately 30 days for the solar angle to change on the Moon. The space agency remains optimistic that a shift in sunlight direction could eventually lead to the restoration of Slim’s power functions.
The Slim Moon Craft project is a crucial mission for researching pinpoint landing technology essential for future lunar probes. It aims to verify this technology on the Moon’s surface with a small-scale probe.
Slim’s landing accuracy was a key focus, attempting to land within 100 meters (328 feet) of its target, a significant improvement over conventional accuracies of several kilometers.
Analyzing the trace data, Kuninaka stated that Slim achieved a landing with 100-meter accuracy. This precise landing capability is expected to bring about a qualitative shift, enabling future missions to land precisely where intended, even on planets with fewer resources than the Moon.
While Slim Moon Craft faces the challenge of its solar panel malfunction, the mission’s success in achieving a pinpoint landing brings optimism for the advancement of lunar exploration technologies.
However, verification of the mission’s complete success is expected to take about a month, during which Slim’s performance and data will be closely monitored.