The club of countries that can soft-land spacecraft on the Moon is continuing to grow, with Japan being the latest addition. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on Friday confirmed that its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) successfully landed on the Moon’s surface at 8.50 PM IST on Friday. Despite the successful landing, the “Moon Sniper” has a major issue — its solar cells are not generating power.
With the landing, the list of countries that have soft-landed a spacecraft on the Moon now has five members — the United States, the erstwhile Soviet Union, China, India and Japan. “SLIM is now operating only on its battery, and we are prioritising the transfer of its data onto earth”, Hitoshi Kuninaka, the head of JAXA’s research centre, told a press conference, reported Reuters.
Even after “life-sustaining treatments” like turning off the spacecraft’s heater, its batteries can only last for a few hours on the harsh conditions of the lunar surface. JAXA is hoping that a shift in the sunlight’s angle will hit the panels in such a way that it can restore its functions, according to Kuninaka.
The SLIM mission is called the Moon Sniper because it attempted to land within 100 metres of its target. Usually, spacecraft have an accuracy of within a few kilometres from its target. JAXA believes this technology can be a powerful tool in future exploration as it can be used to reach hilly parts of the Moon that could be a source of oxygen and water. These life-sustaining elements also have an important use as fuel source for rockets.
Despite the issue with the solar cells, SLIM fared much better than Astrobiotic’s privately-built Peregrine lander, which suffered a major issue after takeoff and had to be burned up in Earth’s atmosphere.