Japan spacecraft lands on moon, as soft landing is a success

Japan spacecraft landed on the moon on Friday, however, the degree of success in the landing is not yet clear. H-IIA rocket carrying the national space agency’s moon lander was launched at Tanegashima Space Center on the southwestern island of Tanegashima on  September 7, 2023.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) attempted the landing of the lander dubbed ‘Moon Sniper’ within 100 meters of the target.

The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, descended onto the lunar surface around 8:50 pm.

SLIM achieved a successful ‘pinpoint’ touchdown, making Japan only the fifth country, after the United States, Russia, China, and India, to have successfully landed a probe on the Moon.

The precision technology allowed the lander to touch down closer to its target landing site than any mission has before.

However the spacecraft might have survived on the lunar surface for just a few hours, due to power failure.

Telemetry showed SLIM, touched down in its target area near Shioli crater, south of the lunar equator early Saturday morning, four months after lifting off from Tanegashima.

‘SLIM has made it to the Moon’s surface. It has been communicating with our ground station and responding to commands from Earth accurately,’ a JAXA spokesperson said at a press conference after the landing was completed.

‘However, it seems that the solar cells are not generating electricity at this point, and the spacecraft is operating solely on its battery,’ he said and added, ‘The battery will last several more hours — those hours will be the remaining life of SLIM.’

He said JAXA would continue monitoring the lander, as there was still a chance the panels would start working.

The successful landing comes around two weeks after a commercial US spacecraft launched for the Moon, only to discover a propellant problem, that nixed the landing.

A year ago, another Japanese commercial lander crashed into the Moon during the notoriously difficult landing. No commercial company has been able to do so yet.

As far as the Asian space race goes, only China, India, and Japan have now put a spacecraft on the Moon in the past decade. India successfully landed in August 2023.

The aim of the SLIM lander

The SLIM lander, equipped with compact lunar probes and lightweight equipment designed for advanced observations and adaptable landings on resource-scarce planets, signifies a significant advancement in exploration strategies.

The Japanese space agency, JAXA, states that the critical objective is to demonstrate landing accuracy within 100 meters, notably in the designated 4 km x 2.4 km landing area for Chandrayaan-3.

JAXA asserts that the development of the SLIM lander marks a qualitative shift, enabling humans to land precisely where intended, challenging the previous norm of choosing easier landing spots.