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Japan's Slim Spacecraft: Soft Landing, Hard Power-generating

Cover - An artist’s illustration of the Slim lander on the moon. A problem with the lander’s solar panels meant it was operating purely on existing battery power. Photograph: Jaxa Handout/EPA [Source: The Guardian]

Japan's ambition to be the fifth country to achieve a soft landing on the moon-faced a setback as the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (Slim) encountered difficulties in generating electricity after the touchdown.


On Friday, 19 January, 4,00pm Tokyo local time, Japan’s space agency announced that they believe a soft, precision landing was successful. Despite a flawless descent, the lander experienced a glitch with its solar panels, potentially misaligned towards the sun. This forced Slim to rely solely on its battery power, with concerns about the limited timeframe before the battery drains.

Image Source: Reuters

Hitoshi Kuninaka, head of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa)’s space lab, expressed the agency's focus on prioritizing data transfer to Earth, while also mentioning the possibility of generating electricity if the sun's movement illuminates the solar cells in the coming weeks. Confirmation of the landing precision near the Shioli crater, a crucial goal for the mission, is expected to take about a month.


If successful, Slim's precision landing would mark a significant advancement, moving from "landing where we can" to "landing where we want," a critical shift for future moon exploration. The setback is disappointing for Jaxa, which faced challenges in its previous attempt in 2022 and witnessed a private lunar mission crash landing in 2023.


Despite the uncertainty surrounding the solar panel issue, Jaxa remains optimistic about Slim's achievements. The mission aimed to pioneer new technologies for pinpoint landings, potentially transforming the approach to moon landings in the future.


Moon missions have regained prominence among major space agencies, driven by plans to return humans to the moon and exploit its resources. Slim's precision landing is crucial for the future success of missions, aligning with the renewed interest in lunar exploration.


In the broader context of lunar exploration, achieving a soft landing on the moon has historically been challenging. Slim's successful descent, despite the power generation setback, underscores the significance of the mission. Japan's entry into the "win column" alongside other spacefaring nations positions the country as a valuable partner in future lunar and interplanetary endeavours.


As Slim faces potential limitations in its mission longevity, the successful test of precision navigation technologies sets the stage for Japan's continued contributions to lunar exploration and potential collaborations on Mars missions in the future.

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Tags: #Space #Aircraft; #Latestnews; #Japan; #Moonexploration;


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