Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has proudly announced the successful touchdown of its high-precision lunar lander, dubbed the "Moon Sniper," marking a significant achievement for the country. However, the celebration is tempered by concerns over the lander's power supply, prompting officials to assess its status carefully. The mission's primary objective of achieving a pinpoint landing is also under scrutiny, necessitating further analysis.
The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) probe initiated its "power descent sequence" towards the lunar surface in the early hours of Saturday local time, as reported by JAXA. Despite the initial success, issues arose with the craft's power supply, particularly the solar battery not generating power effectively. Hitoshi Kuninaka, head of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, highlighted the urgency of maximizing data collection on the moon with the remaining battery life, which is expected to last only a few more hours.
Kuninaka indicated that rovers were launched, and data transmission to Earth was underway. However, the focus now shifts to optimizing data collection before the battery expires. SLIM's solar battery faces challenges due to the changing solar angle on the moon, which can affect the efficiency of power generation.
Acknowledging the circumstances, Kuninaka expressed confidence in SLIM's landing accuracy, stating that the trace data indicates a landing with a 100-meter precision as intended, a remarkable improvement over the conventional accuracy of several kilometers. The verification process for this achievement is expected to take approximately a month.
By achieving this lunar landing, Japan has secured its position as the fifth country globally to successfully place a spacecraft on the moon, joining the ranks of the United States, Russia, China, and India. Japan's technology, considered unprecedented and crucial for lunar exploration, is seen as instrumental in advancing the quest for lunar water and potential human habitation.
Shinichiro Sakai, JAXA's SLIM project manager, highlighted the strategic advantage Japan gains by showcasing its technological capabilities, particularly in the context of future international missions like NASA's Artemis program. Japan's participation in Artemis reflects its active role in space activities and partnerships with the United States.
While celebrating this achievement, Japan has faced challenges in its space endeavors, including setbacks such as the launch failure of the H3 flagship rocket in March. Despite these hurdles, JAXA remains committed to leveraging its high-precision technology for future lunar exploration, emphasizing its potential in exploring hilly moon poles as a potential source of oxygen, fuel, and water. Additionally, Japan plans a joint unmanned lunar polar exploration with India in 2025.
Accompanying the "Moon Sniper" is the SORA-Q probe, a shape-shifting robot designed to navigate the lunar surface and capture images. Developed in collaboration with the toy company Takara Tomy, known for the original Transformers, SORA-Q is anticipated to provide valuable images of a lunar crater exposing parts of the moon's mantle that are typically hidden beneath the crust. The robot's design, likened to a friendly Star Wars droid or a sea turtle, adds a unique and engaging dimension to Japan's lunar exploration mission.
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